_ Yuri Kofner, head, Eurasian sector, Centre of Comprehensive European and International Studies, Higher School of Economics. Moscow, August 28, 2018.*
Eurasian economic integration is a living process that constantly requires the improvement of existing aspects, elements and directions and the addition of new ones. As Tatiana Valovaya, minister, Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) put it during the EEC-RIAC Young Researcheers School 2017, quoting the words of the European politician Jacques Delors: “Integration is like riding a bicycle, if you stop pedaling, you fall”.
At the same time, in the course of the necessary aspiration to constantly deepen and expand the spheres of integration, it is important not to lose sight of the main objectives of Eurasian integration – improving the welfare of the citizens and increasing business activity. Thus, according to the EAEU Agreement of 2014, one of the three objectives of the regional block is “to create conditions for the stable development of the economies of the member states in order to improve the living standards of their populations”.
Achieving these goals is also one of the priorities of the Russian Federation’s presidency in the bodies of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2018. In his January address to the heads of the EAEU member states the Russian President Vladimir Putin argued:
“We must make sure that all citizens of our states clearly understand and share the goals of the Union, more actively connect to their achievement, directly link their outlooks and prosperity with the Eurasian Economic Union”. The Russian president also added: “It is necessary to involve the business circles – large businesses and, most importantly, representatives of small and medium-sized businesses – in the integration initiatives”.
In this regard, I would like to outline a few recommendations.
Firstly, it is necessary to increase the activeness and expand the openness of the EAEU Business Council. It is worth noting that, despite the support given by the Eurasian Economic Commission and the fact that the council is headed by the first chairman of the EEC Victor Khristenko, the activities of the EAEU Business Council are still quite exclusive. The events of this organization are relatively uncommon and they are mainly closed to the general public and the expert community. Despite the fact that the EAEU Business Council formally exists for three years, the official Internet portal of the organization has not yet been created. Reports and announcements about the council’s events appear rarely, and they have to be searched on the Internet or on the EEC website. Taking advantage of this situation, informal copy-cat organizations have already appeared, such as the “Eurasian Business Council”. In this connection, it seems that at present, and in this format, the EAEU Business Council is not yet sufficiently coping with the task of involving the citizens of the member states of the Union and the representatives of small and medium-sized businesses in the processes of Eurasian integration. Reform of this body would seem appropriate.
Secondly, despite the relatively small scale media activities of the EEC (of course, in comparison with the financial and human recources of the governing bodies of the EU), interest in Eurasian economic integration from the civil, business, expert and academic communities, both domestic and abroad, has been constantly growing and has reached a critical level. Every month, the Commission’s employees receive a huge number of invitations to take part in that or the other event. As for personnel (the EEC has only about one thousand employees) and for financial reasons (business trips are limited and EEC employees are prohibited from traveling and living at the expense of the inviting party) the Commission staff will no longer be able to give a positive response to all invitations. In this regard, one can propose to establish a parallel scientific and expert structure, which would be officially affiliated with the EEC, to which some of the Commission’s public diplomacy and public relations tasks could be delegated. Such a structure could be established on the basis of an equal and open consortium of interested research institutes, think tanks, universities and media agencies of the EAEU member states. This could become one of the topics for discussion during the International School for Eurasian Integration – 2018 “The Eurasian Economic Union: Shaping the Contours of the Future”, which will be held in October 2018 by the Russian International Affairs Council in cooperation with the Eurasian Commission and the Eurasian Development Bank.
Thirdly, in his address, Vladimir Putin called one of the priorities of Russia’s presidency in the EAEU “the further deepening of interregional and cross-border cooperation of the member states of the [Union]”. International experience has shown that ensuring closer cooperation at the subnational level of the participating member states gives an additional boost to integration processes. In this regard, on can propose, looking at the European experience, to introduce so-called “Evraz-regions” in the EAEU which would combine two or more border regions of the member states of the Union. For their coordination one can consider establishing the “Division for the Development of Cross-Border Cooperation” within the Department for the Development of Integration of the Eurasian Economic Commisison.
Finally, the Eurasian Commission is actively working on strengthening the trade and economic cooperation of the EAEU with third countries and international organizations. Interest in this or that format of cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union has been expressed by more than 50 countries of the world. Currently, FTA agreements have been signed with Vietnam and Iran (temporary), as well as on trade and economic cooperation with China. At the same time Moldova has received the status of observer state with the Union. However, on this positive background, for the time being there has been not enough accompanying PR work to explain to the business community about the advantages and possibilities of these agreements. Only for one of them, about the FTA with Vietnam, the EEC has published a report. And only in Russian. There are no such reports on cooperation with other countries (Iran, China, Moldova). Sporadically round tables have been held on this topic, but this is also not enough. In this connection, it might suggested, again drawing from the experience of te European External Action Service (EEAS), to create separate Internet pages officially affiliated with the EEC, which will cover facts and news about the opportunities and advantages the EAEU’s agreements with third countries. In the future the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council might consider the possibility of establishing official trade missions of the Eurasian Economic Union in states that have officially expressed interest in this and to write this provision in the relevant memorandums and agreements.
* The article presents personal views of the author, which may not reflect the official position of the HSE and other mentioned organizations.