Russia-EU: from strategic partnership to strategic union

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 Jose 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.

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