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CEPS European Neighbourhood Watch. Issue 48


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CEPS European Neighbourhood Watch. Issue 48

Editorial by Michael Emerson: «Synergies vs. Spheres of Influence»

With the approaching summit launch of the Eastern Partnership in Prague on 7 May one can ask whether the map of Europe is sliding further towards an increasingly marked division between competing EU and Russian spheres of influence, in which the contested buffer zone in-between exhibits ominous signs of political instability. These tendencies have already translated into war in August last year, an awful first European war of the 21st century, crushing the hope that the continent was approaching the Kantian ideal of ‘eternal peace’.

Russian political discourse and actions contribute to these tendencies, from Putin's statements deploring the loss of the Soviet Union to a whole series of confidence-destroying measures deployed in its neighbourhood in recent years, even before the war in Georgia (Estonian monument, Polish meat, Lithuanian oil supplies, the Azov Sea affair, wine sanctions against Moldova and Georgia etc).

The Eastern Partnership could be understood by Moscow as a sign to change its diplomatic method on the European stage in its own interests. For example it seems that the normal desires of Russian enterprises to expand through trade and investment in the rest of Europe including its neighbours encounters increasing resistance because of a general lack of trust. Such concerns are not dissolved by familiar speeches from Russian leaders that its neighbours are living in the past with the fiction of phantom pains.

But there is also the question whether the EU itself could be doing more to accompany or manage the Eastern Partnership initiatives to get synergetic cooperation throughout the European continent, rather than head down the dangerous road of competing spheres of influence.  Or, more precisely, what could be the mechanisms to achieve this, and what would it take on the Russian side to make these work – it takes two to tango. A new CEPS study [1] undertaken at the invitation of the German foreign ministry, explores the ground for this (without of course Berlin's responsibility for the conclusions).

A first classic would be to construct a pan-European free trade area, rather than to erect two competing and mutually exclusive customs unions. The EU in fact puts out feelers in this direction, and has new free trade agreements in the making with Ukraine and in prospect with others to follow. The EU raises this idea with Russia, which however shows little or no interest. But meanwhile Russia does actively push its single economic area as a customs union with Belarus and Kazakstan, pushing Ukraine to join in, which Kyiv rejects precisely because it would rule out free trade with the EU.

A second major item is the gas pipeline business, to which we referred in these pages in March. Here the EU and Ukraine could have taken up the idea of a tripartite concession agreement.

A third item could be to link the already planned pan-European transport corridors that extend into Central Asia with the westward corridors now being constructed from China through into Central Asia. The European Investment Bank and Asian Development Bank could literally join hands here.

A fourth item could be a major international effort to resolve the water-hydro-energy crisis in Central Asia, which is serious enough to risk degenerating into open conflict, and which needs the resources of the World Bank and other financial institutions. This crisis cannot be solved alone by anyone, although Russia seems at times to suggest that it can do it.

A fifth item concerns climate change, with three big coal-burning C02 polluters to the East – Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan: could the EU not form a club of four here to share technologies and climate change policy expertise?

The list of conceivable actions can go on, but here we conclude on the subject of President Medevedev's call for a new pan-European security architecture. Diplomatic exchanges are underway, notably in the framework of OSCE meetings. There seems to be some movement in diplomatic circles in the shaping of positions, which may be summarised under some intriguing short-hand labels: Helsinki II, versus Helsinki-minus, or Helsinki-plus. These labels have no official status, and we are all free to try them out. Helsinki II might mean creating a radically new institutional structure, maybe replacing OSCE, and a revision of the normative principles of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. Russia might be interpreted as seeking this, but it will not fly in the West. Helsinki-minus might mean a weakening of the Helsinki principles and of the OSCE as an institution, which Russia may be interpreted as having been doing in practice; this also will not fly. Helsinki-plus might mean keeping all the Helsinki 1975 principles, but also finding ways to enhance the effectiveness of the OSCE and building confidence between Russia and NATO, the US and the EU. This seems to be the way that could have a future, and the EU could itself contribute to the process, post-Lisbon, inter alia by becoming a full member of OSCE, and exploring ideas for a core group of major players to overcome the unwieldy format of all 56 member states (a European Security Council by analogue to the UNSC alongside the UN General Assembly).

Might not the EU integrate ideas for a Helsinki-plus with the other main economic agenda items, as illustrated above, and so propose a further strategic ‘dimension’ to its external policies in the wider European area. This might be called a ‘pan-European dimension’, and could be discussed bilaterally with Russia and Ukraine as well as multilaterally in the OSCE. Some elements could already be discussed in the framework of the 3 rd country participation in the new regional-multilateral aspect of the Eastern Partnership, but this seems to be a too ad hoc and uncertain opening for the task of changing strategic directions. Something bigger and fresher is needed.

[1] “Synergies vs. Spheres of Influence in the Pan-European Space”, by Michael Emerson with Arianna Checchi, Noriko Fujiwara, Ludmila Gajdosova, George Gavrilis, Elena Gnedina, CEPS Paperback, 22 April 2009.

№5(33), 2009