Member State Presidency in the Eurasian Economic Union: Looking at the EU’s Experience

_  Yuri Kofner, head, Eurasian sector, Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEIS), National Research University “Higher School of Economics”; research assistant, IIASA. Munich,  24 July 2018.

The Eurasian Economic Union is in many regards similar to the European Union. In the level of integration this eastern regional block is only second to its western counterpart. One aspect that has not yet been payed enough attention to by Western scholars is that the EAEU has its own recent tradition of a rotating presidency of its member states in the Union’s bodies. Due to the lesser number of member states, only 5 as compared to 27, a member state chaires the Union’s insitutes annually, rather than every six months as in the EU. In July 2018 Austria took over presidency in the European Union.

In 2016, one year after its creation, the Eurasian Economic Union was chaired by Kazakhstan. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the architect of modern Eurasian integration and head of this important Central Asian state, promptly declared 2016 to be “the year of deepening economic relations of the EAEU with third countries”. Since then the Eurasian Economic Commission signed FTA agreements with Vietnam and Iran, a trade and economic cooperation agreement with China, and Moldova officially received observer status with the regional block. In 2017 Kyrgyzstan took over the chairmanship of the Union, whith less ambitious aims.

In contrast to that Russia’s presidency in the Eurasian Economic Union can be seen a quite ambitious – perhaps in perchance to Moscow’s perction of itself and its role in the Eurasian space. In a communique dating from 18 January 18, 2018, Vladimir Putin outlined the priority areas of the Kremlin’s chairmanship in the Eurasian Economic Union. Apart from supporting the realization of traditional aspects of economic integration within the Union, i.e. the elimination of barriers to trade, the creation of single domestic markets, digitalization, activiztion of trade deals with third parties, Russia also aims to add new and perspective spheres to the agenda. Among them: cooperation in the peacful usage of nuclear energy, development of domestic tourism, trans-border cooperation on the sub-national level,  enhanced incorporation of the remaining CIS member state into the Eurasian integration project and even the creation of a common education and research space. The last aspect might seem the most ambitious and difficult to achieve, since Kazakhstan and Belarus have generally tried to avoid including aspects into the integration agenda that where not strictly economic.

In this regard, it might proof useful to look at the presidency experience of the European Union. The process of forming the agenda of the chairmanship of the EU Council is rather complicated and multileveled. It was approved by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. Firstly, it includes not one country, but three – the so-called “trio”; secondly, the period of the chairmanship is divided into three semesters with a duration of six months. The three countries are developing a common agenda for the Union for this period (e.g. “Smart and Sustainable Europe”, July 1, 2017 – December 31, 2018), which also prepare a more detailed program of each country’s chairmanship for their given semester.

The programs of individual countries put emphasis more clearly on this or that period, and they also largely reflect the national priorities of the presiding country. For example, Estonia’s motto for the period of chairmanship from July 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018 was “Unity through Balance” and its main priorities where focused on innovation, security and digitalization. Bulgaria in its program focuses on supporting the younger generation, creating a safe environment and developing the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. The Austrian chairmanship agenda is focused on security, with the main emphasis on respecting the principle of subsidiarity, which implies the Union’s non-interference in local decision-making (especially in the area of ​​migration management).

Here one can notice that, on the one hand, the EU presidency programs have been developed on the basis of a common framework for the development priorities of integration (the “general agenda”), on the other hand, each country in its chairmanship program puts emphasis on the most important problems and objectives of their own participation in the EU.

Another aspect worth noting, that has yet been neglected in the EAEU’s member states’ approaches towards their respective chairmanships, is the detailed elaboration of the presidency programs in the EU, where each EU member state indicates not only the overall priorities of the general agenda, but also the country’s particular activities within each body of the European Union. In connection with that, each EU member states has its own presidency homepage, where the general agenda and the national presidency programms are outlined. On the more aesthetic aspect, each EU member state commissions the design of a special logo of its chairmanship. Nothing comparable has yet been implemented by Russia or other EAEU member states.

Overall, some aspects of the process of forming the chairmanship agenda in the EU could be used in the Eurasian Economic Union. The development of detailed presidency programs would allow more effective and consistent implementation of the proposed initiatives. It would also be useful to create a website for Russia’s presidency. Or, following the example of the EU, a hompeage of EAEU’s chairmanship in general could be set up, where it would be possible to trace the continuity of the proposed initiatives and the degree of implementation of the commitments undertaken by the countries.

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