C·A·P Home > Aktuell > positionen > 2008 > A new EU-Russia framework

Modernization without Westernization?

The background for negotiations of a new EU-Russia framework

27.06.2008 · By Daniel Grotzky

On June 26th the EU-Russia summit in Khanty-Mansiysk will hopefully see the beginning of negotiations over a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). A mandate for negotiations had previously been blocked first by Poland due to a row over Russian sanctions on Polish meat, then by Lithuania which expressed a whole list of issues such as the Russian shut-down of an oil pipeline it wished to see on the agenda. In order to better understand the prospective for a new EU-Russia framework one must take an inward look at both the EU and Russia beyond day-to-day politics.

Modernization without liberal democracy

Since Peter the Great Russia has frequently looked upon Europe as a blueprint model for modernization. At the same time there is a permanent discourse in Russia that states the country to be significantly different from the West and that ruling Russia necessitates heavy-handedness in government. The attempt to modernize by adopting a Western definition of democracy and market economy under the shock of the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union during the 1990s is viewed in today’s Russia as a period of domestic instability and dependency from the West.

The controversial term "sovereign democracy" coined under Vladimir Putin's tenure as president marks very well how Russia has rejected Westernization both in the realm of domestic and international politics. Domestically  "Westernizers" among the elites have resigned and withdrawn from politics into business, the creation of a "power vertical" puts state efficiency above checks and balances, the restitution of national and state identity above civil liberties. Internationally "sovereign democracy" implies ensuring Russian "independence" from foreign influence. As a result, foreign investors have been shoved out of "strategic" industries and Russia lobbies with China to minimize the impact of foreign intervention in the U.N. security council.

Russia's choice

But Europe remains Russia’s strategic choice and its new president Dmitri Medvedev has stressed shared cultural roots. The Russian elite knows the risks of being too dependent on fossil fuel exports to Western Europe and wants the economy to diversify to include more high-tech and industrial production. In this plan, the countries of the European Union are seen as a source of know-how, capital and investment. Another aim is to draw European countries into a post-transatlantic security order in which Russia would wield significantly more influence than the current NATO-based framework. The original PCA was based on the belief in a democratic trajectory of Russia and adopted the idea of a Russia converging with Europe on domestic values and politics. This approach is today viewed in Russia as one-sided. A new PCA – from Russia's perspective – should reflect its new self-esteem and refrain from any attempts of imposing "unilateral" regulation on Russia, whether it be economic reforms or Western democratic values.

The European Union: Differing perceptions…

An economically growing and politically restrictive Russia has invoked very different reactions among its EU-neighbours. Whereas Germany and France see huge investment opportunities, Poland or Lithuania worry about Russia’s new assertiveness. The initial vetoes on new PCA negotiations had as much to do with a historically grown perception of Russia as a threat in Eastern Europe as it did with Polish or Lithuanian economic interests. In PCA negotiations the European Union therefore faces the classic risks of a game of collusion. Individual member states, in particular the larger economies of the continent, can profit directly from bilateral cooperation with Russia circumventing an EU-wide approach. A number of Central and Eastern European members on the other hand risk blocking or prolonging negotiations altogether if they lobby too much for a hard stance toward Russia. Indeed in the run-up to the summit Russia has been pointing at divisive issues, such as the ratification of the Lisbon treaty and Polish and Czech support for US-American missile defence to showcase the EU's weaknesses and strengthen its own negotiation position.

… common EU interests…

Critics of European integration would see the inner European conflict as confirmation in their belief that such a heterogeneous bloc as the European Union can not develop a coherent strategy towards its largest and most powerful neighbour. However, the common interests of the European states towards Russia far outweigh their differences. Furthermore, Russia would be able to frame failing negotiations on the EU’s internal disputes, thus rejecting the bloc as a serious partner.

Energy: While the diversification of energy sources remains the aim of numerous EU member states none of them can ignore that Russia will continue to be a major supplier of oil and gas. The EU does not need to discuss alternative energy sources with Russia. Rather PCA negotiations should stress the need transparency and flexibility in Russia's oil and gas pipeline monopoly that would make it easier to buy energy directly from Central Asian countries. Another issue is whether Russia will be able provide enough oil and gas to match growing European demand. This necessitates further (foreign) investment into modernizing the Russian pipeline system and building up new greenfield projects after Russian sources in Western Siberia run dry.

Rule of law: As the debate on democracy in Russia becomes increasingly theoretical, the discussion on an efficient rule of law is just getting started. All EU member states share an interest in seeing Russia tackling corruption and guaranteeing investors their legal assets. The state of PCA negotiations can be a platform to scrutinize Medvedev’s promise to strengthen the rule of law in the country.

Frozen Conflicts: The EU's border region holds a plethora of breakaway republics and semi-functional states: Transnistria, Abchasia and South Ossetia, as well as Kosovo and Bosnia. In the Western Balkans, the European Union needs Russian cooperation on the UN Security Council. In Moldova and the Southern Caucasus there is no possible way of closing up semi-state "black holes" that serve as transit for narcotics and arms smuggling without Russian support. While directly confronting Russia with its less-than neutral role in some of these conflicts will not amount to much progress, European negotiators should definitely put regional instability in the common neighbourhood on the agenda and find mechanisms of cooperation to calm some of the hot spots on the continent’s periphery.

… and common lines of division

No longer just historical grudges: There also are dividing lines between the EU and Russia that go further than post-soviet issues between Moscow and Eastern Europe. Criticism of Russia is not restricted to Eastern Europe. A growing number of "old" EU members including Sweden and the United Kingdom have had very recent negative experiences with Russia – see the expulsion of the British Council from the country for an example.

Debate over principles of cooperation: Only recently the largest difficulty projected for future PCA negotiations was seen in whether or to which degree common values should play a role in EU-Russia relations. This problem exists no longer – virtually all EU actors have in fact accepted that Russia is no longer on a trajectory to liberal democracy. The debate over shared values will be replaced by one on the EU-members’ and Russia’s differing interpretations of much more basic of cooperation such as "interdependence", "sovereignty" or "reciprocity".

Toward new PCA negotiations

Successful PCA negotiations will therefore require compromise both between EU members and between the EU and Russia. The European Union should focus on those points that enjoy consensus in order to effectively wield its economic clout and population of 500 million in negotiations. Only then can it be a positive regional force of transformation. For Russia, negotiations will demonstrate that modernization and security cooperation require a certain level of mutual trust that will only take effect if Europeans feel secure that Russia exhibits rule of law and transparency in government – something often referred to as "European values".

News zum Thema

„Jahrbuch der Europäischen Integration 2016“ erscheint im November
Herausgegeben von Werner Weidenfeld und Wolfgang Wessels
31.10.2016 · C·A·P

Europäische Sicherheitsarchitektur: Mögliche Folgen der Ukraine-Krise
Statements von Werner Weidenfeld
19.02.2015 · Die Furche (Wien)

Ukraine-Konflikt: „Noch keine Lösung“
Interview mit Prof. Dr. Werner Weidenfeld
18.02.2015 · Focus Money 9/2015

Sanktionen gegen Moskau haben Folgen für EU
„Europa im Diskurs“ in Wien - Statements von Prof. Dr. Werner Weidenfeld
18.03.2014 · derStandard.at

Die Schwarzmeer Region im Fokus der Öffentlichkeit
Zweite „Black Sea Young Reformers“ Konferenz in Berlin
23.11.2010 · C·A·P