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Russia-EU: from strategic partnership to strategic union

30/05/07- MOSCOW. (Sergei Karaganov for RIA Novosti) –

On the eve of the Samara summit, some EU officials said that Russia-EU relations had sunk to their lowest point since the Cold War.

The reasons for European pessimism are hidden between the lines of newspaper
articles and high-sounding statements. It is primarily rooted in the
European Union’s weakening foreign policy. Its extension has made a bad
problem worse. Against this backdrop, the growth of Russia’s international
weight has been particularly striking in the past few years. Russia has
become determined to uphold its interests and positions.

At the summit European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that
the Polish, Lithuanian and Estonian problems were a European concern.
Before, EU leaders dismissed such problems as bilateral. If the EU has
changed its mind and now thinks that the old Europe should share the
idiosyncrasies and complexes of the new members, we should express our
condolences to it. In this case, the EU will continue undermining its
position. Our European friends and partners may be trying to put a good face
on the matter and refuse to face reality. However, a common foreign policy
that may be directed, say, by La Valletta, Vilnius, Bucharest or Warsaw for
the sake of consensus is a form of political suicide.

In the past 10 years, this policy has enhanced the feeling of pan-European
solidarity but decreased European global influence in a number of
directions. Owing to this policy based on a lower common denominator,
Berlin, Paris and Madrid are much less influential now than 10 to 15 years
ago.

The U.S.-EU summit reaffirmed this a month ago. Outwardly, it took place in
a much warmer atmosphere than the Samara summit but the Americans did not
make a single concession. They imposed on the EU an obviously unequal civil
aviation agreement that allowed U.S. companies to fly over European cities
but without reciprocity. Likewise, the EU granted all Americans visa-free
travel to all of its 27 members, whereas its newcomers did not receive this
privilege.

The EU’s diminishing weight will prevent it from exerting favorable
influence on other countries, including Russia. It will be less able to
promote humane and civilizing European political culture. Who will listen to
the Europeans if their common policy is dictated by Poland of the Kaczynski
brothers, who are trying to impose a ban on certain professions almost 20
years after the fall of communism? Or when this policy is influenced by the
politically provincial Tallinn, which dismantles monuments to allay its
complexes?

It is a real blessing that at the summit the sides did not come to terms on
the beginning of talks on a new agreement. If by miracle an agreement is
signed, it will certainly be torpedoed by the new Europeans or their
patrons.

This will continue until the sides realize what they want from the new
agreement. Brussels should overcome the shock and accept that Russia has
learnt to say “no” and defend the interests of its companies. The EU should
respect Moscow’s position. The old Europeans should “absorb” the new ones
and come to a realization that Europe needs a coordinated rather than common
policy. The latter is good only for small countries – the idiosyncratic
newcomers.

The lack of signed documents is the summit’s achievement rather than
drawback. These documents could have been signed only on the terms that
Brussels had loudly announced in advance. To my knowledge, there were
attempts to impose ultimatums during the summit, too. I think that now the
sides will show more respect for each other. They should continue the
dialogue and a search for the solution of problems to mutual advantage. Many
of these were resolved at the summit. But now they need a pause for
realizing a new alignment of forces.

Moscow and the European capitals should understand that they have common
interests. Maybe, they should even stop using a politically correct but
meaningless term – “strategic partnership.”

They should work for a strategic union rather than partnership. Otherwise,
their global positions will be weakening – the EU will continue losing its
global influence in the mid-term and Russia will follow suit in five to six
years. Initially, this could be an energy union – an exchange of assets.
Russia could give Europe a share in energy production in exchange for a
share in distribution.

For the time being, the sides are not ready for this union. They should work
to turn what the media are calling “the tragedy of failure” into an impetus
for taking their relations to a new level. This will allow them to look to
the future with optimism.

Sergei Karaganov is the head of the editorial board at the Russia in Global
Affairs magazine.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not
necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.-0-