A Russian perspective: The EU’s only one way to succeed

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

File photo. Russian Permanent Representative Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov speaks to the press at the start of a conference on 'Supporting the future of Syria and the region' at EU council headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium, 25 April 2018. [Stephanie Lecocq/EPA/EFE]

The EU can achieve its goal maintaining its positions in the multipolar world of today and of tomorrow only by interacting with other pillars of its common Eurasian civilisation, including Russia, writes Vladimir Chizhov.

Vladimir Chizhov is a career diplomat. Before being appointed Ambassador to the EU in 2005, he was Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. The text below is based on a speech Chizhov delivered at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Valdai Discussion Club.

What place is there for Europe and its leading integration entity, the European Union, in this changing world? Personally, I do not advocate extreme views and so I am absolutely convinced that those predicting that the European Union soon collapses seriously underestimate the viability of this integration union.

But it is also wrong to be misguided by the EU’s self-perception as a “shining temple on top of the hill” that all European states with no exception are allegedly dreaming to enter, and residents of other parts of the world would not mind jointing as well.

Throughout the 60 years of its evolution the European Union has returned to a certain extent to its initial mission serving as an instrument for reconciling differences among its member states and preventing conflicts between them. But over the same last 60 years the world has changed. And the European Union cannot certainly claim global economic dominance, generating “the best democratic standards in the world” and promoting its values, let alone military and political leadership (these claims are up to strategists in Washington).

The EU agenda does not include acquiring additional economic weight and political influence, but rather a much more pragmatic goal of maintaining its positions in the multipolar world of today and particularly of tomorrow.

I believe the EU stands a good chance of achieving this goal. But there is only one way to succeed in that – by interacting with other pillars of our common Eurasian civilisation, with Russia as its key one. It is precisely by cooperating with our country and correlating European and Eurasian integrations broadly pursuing the same aims, the European Union will be able to remain a key factor of global politics and economy for the coming decades. Besides, “integrating integrations” incarnates an excellent example of implementation of the very principle of multilateralism in international affairs that is iconised and worshiped by Brussels.

Being an economist is not a necessary prerequisite to understanding the advantages of multi-faceted EU-EAEU cooperation. Having common sense is enough. The sooner Brussels abandons the illusions of its “integration uniqueness”, the swifter our two unions will start getting dividends from strengthening pan-Eurasian connectivity that, I suppose, will be relevant both for EU member states and Russia with its Eurasian Economic Union partners in the modern highly competitive world.

Unfortunately, these far-reaching prospects are held “hostage” to today’s abnormal – I cannot find another word – relations between Brussels and Moscow. And, moreover, a whole range of European politicians are actively supporting and aggravating this abnormal state. Their logic is simple: it is indeed very convenient to divert the attention of voters and partners within the European Union from one’s own miscalculations by, for instance, blowing up an international scandal on dubious pretext of a “chemical incident in Salisbury”. Or to scare EU population with an endless soap-opera on “Russian interference”, wiping out political opponents in passing. Or to build one’s national identity on the basis of a “Russian threat”.

But there also exist other approaches within the EU. Many of my interlocutors from EU member states frankly say that 5 years ago no one in the EU could have even imagined that the crisis around Ukraine would be protracted so long that it would gain its own inertia, one that is very difficult to overcome. The most quick-witted European politicians have already realised that sanctions against Russia are not working but they do not know how to get out of the trap they or their predecessors pushed themselves into back in 2014. Therefore, they simply suggest that we act according to the formula “help us to help you” – that is for Moscow to make a “goodwill gesture” towards Kiev within the settlement framework and then, they say, everything will start getting on track immediately. Well, everything can get on track should quite a different condition be met – should the Ukrainian side implement the Minsk Agreements that are known to have been formulated with active participation of major European powers – Germany and France.

Another, much wider problem of EU-Russia relations is a lack of understanding how the very model of these relations should look like. In my opinion, it is no less important to formulate this vision than to fully restore contacts that were “frozen” in recent years through no fault of ours, I would stress. The Russia–EU strategic partnership we defined as the general aim in the 1990s and especially 2000s should not be succeeded by “mutual strategic challenge” or at its best “strategic neighbourhood” that some forces in Brussels are trying to replace it by.

The unreasonably popular formula “Europe and Russia share the same landmass” has become a quintessence of attempts to define a new starting point to build further relations with Russia. Imagine how large a part of humanity would start thinking should Russia use this formula.

I am convinced that a pragmatic partnership based on mutual respect and taking each other’s legitimate interests into account and jointly defining approaches to addressing global and regional tasks is the only option possible.

A few days ago, on 23–26 May, EU member states held elections to the European Parliament. Their results certainly did not bring breaking sensations, but showed, inter alia, that European voters are increasingly ready to support political forces advocating healthier EU relations with Russia. Electoral achievements of those who consider sanctions economically and politically detrimental to their countries should make Brussels think twice.

On 28 May leaders of EU countries started the process of distributing top posts in the European institutions that will take office in autumn when a new EU institutional cycle begins. I will not try to predict the results of the discussions that have started and seem to become quite lengthy – there are, alas, already enough of those willing to trace the “hand of Moscow” to them. Time will tell.

In any case I would like to believe that new “commanders of the European project” will learn the right lessons from the experience of their predecessors on the Russian track, be bolder in formulating a genuinely independent foreign policy and take real efforts to re-establish an atmosphere of trust with us that is indispensable for building a mutually beneficial dialogue. And from this Europe, I am convinced, Russia can expect nothing but good.

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