Prospects of Greater Europe

MOSCOW. (Igor Maksimychev for RIA Novosti) – Regrettably, in the past few months the political atmosphere in Europe has been changing for the worse. The European Union (EU) is being told that Russia is its worst enemy.
There are forces that are trying to make Europeans forget that Russia is strictly pursuing its policy of developing mutually advantageous cooperation with the EU, that Moscow’s main goal is to fit in into the European and global political and economic context, that Russia’s potential and its ability to contribute to settlement of crises has been growing every year. Contrary to reality, they are alleging that strong Russia with independent policy is dangerous for the EU. Their aim is to discredit President Vladimir Putin and his efforts to achieve stabilization in Russia, consolidate its statehood, and revive its international prestige. The forthcoming change of supreme power is a sensitive issue in Russia’s political development, and the irresponsible opposition will try to use it in order to rock the boat.
Poland’s veto is formally aimed against Russia, but de facto it deals a blow at the EU’s sore spot – its ability to pursue a common international policy. The EU will not be able to play any tangible role in world politics if its individual members disavow its actions on the global scene. In this case, it is likely to remain merely a modified zone of free trade.
The Polish precedent has opened the Pandora’s box – there will always be one or two dissidents among the EU’s 25 members (it will have two new members in early 2007). Now any member, even the weakest one and with no influence whatsoever, can use the Polish experience, and threaten to wreck joint efforts in the world arena. It can even carry out its threat if it decides that other EU members did not pay enough attention to it.
Poland’s demarche has been an unpleasant surprise for Finland, which has achieved much during its six month EU presidency, and prepared a good foundation for the start of talks on a new agreement on strategic partnership with Russia. A failure to reach a compromise in the Turkish-Cypriot conflict does not call into doubt Finland’s brilliant diplomacy and its ability to find mutually acceptable solutions in most intricate situations. However, the Finnish phase of EU policy has not seen a logical conclusion in a major direction of EU foreign policy – cooperation with Russia. Now this task will be inherited by Germany, which will hold the EU Presidency in the first six months of 2007.
Germany’s agenda is extremely complicated. The urgent problem of defining the terms and timescale of Turkey’s accession to the EU is a subject of disputes even among the ruling “grand coalition” in Berlin. At the same time, in six months Germany is planning to find a solution to the problem with the European Constitution, which was approved by some EU members but rejected at the past year’s referendums in France and the Netherlands.
Incidentally, the draft constitution imposed certain limits on the rule of unanimity in the EU, which allowed Poland to use its veto. However, the French and the Dutch were emphatically against such limits for fear that they might jeopardize their sovereignty. Today, nobody knows what changes should be introduced into the European Constitution, and how this should be done.
It is not clear how to persuade the French and the Dutch to vote again, as was the case with the elections in Ukraine (if public unrest similar to Ukrainian Maidan is possible in these countries, it would be against the constitution). A referendum has not yet been held in Britain, where most of the population is negative about the European Constitution. To sum up, the German Presidency will have enough headaches.
Needless to say, the expiry of the current agreement on partnership and cooperation will not become a legal problem in EU-Russian relations. It provides for automatic extension until the sides agree on a new wording. But it is abundantly clear that the agreement signed in 1994 does not conform to the European reality, or to the level of EU-Russian cooperation. A new agreement should become the first step on the road of building a Greater Europe, which will unite Russia and the EU on the basis of equality and mutual advantage. The new wording should rule out incidents like the one with the Polish veto.
The EU has long discussed the idea of different countries moving ahead at different speed. A number of advanced nations will set an example for others, which are moving more slowly. The Polish demarche is bound to revive this discussion. If the EU as a whole does not start moving towards Greater Europe for this or other reason, Russia will work for this goal by promoting cooperation with those EU countries that are ready for this – for instance, in the framework of the French-German-Russian troika.

Igor Maksimychev is senior research fellow at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences