Improvement of EAEU-EU Relations: Grab the Chance, While It Is Still There

On March 24, 2016, RIAC together with the EU Delegation in Russia and Moscow’s Embassy to the Netherlands, the country currently presiding over the EU Council, held a seminar on the prospects for relations between Russia and the EU. The high level expert discussion focused on the Five Principles of Russia-EU Relations, adopted in Brussels and met in Moscow with a critical eye. However, apart from these and other no less important aspects, the vital issue of the availability of positive drivers in the relations between the EAEU and the EU is certainly worth exploring. In the wake of the seminar, RIAC asked some of the participants to share their insights on the prospects for relations between the two integration blocs. These experts included: Jaroslav Lisovolik, Chief Economist at the Eurasian Development Bank; Pavel Kanevsky, Deputy Dean of the Sociology Department at Moscow State University; Sergey Rekeda, Editor-in-Chief of RuBaltic.Ru and General Director of the Information and Analytical Center on Social and Political Processes in the Post-Soviet Space, Moscow State University; and Nikolai Kaveshnikov, Head of the Integration Processes Department of the European Studies Institute at MGIMO-University.

Yaroslav Lisovolik:

The current economic situation both in the EU and the EAEU speaks positively for creating an alliance that could help overcome their economic difficulties. It is obvious that the fundamental economic preconditions for such an alliance are there. They include a number of factors, namely geographical proximity and the complementary nature of economic structures. The Eurasian Union needs to increase its number of alliances and to create additional opportunities for economic and investment growth. In this regard, potential alliances with the European Union could include a variety of options such as investment alliances and different kinds of trade ones that the EU has already been developing to a greater or lesser degree. Thus, opportunities in the economic sphere do exist and, hopefully, will be realized in the future. Economically, the preconditions for this are all there.

Pavel Kanevsky:

Both supranational bodies are facing a variety of problems today, which, although different in nature and generated by different reasons, bring about similar effects, that is the risk of disintegration. The EU is going through a tough period of developmental disease and is trying to cope with the aftermath of expansion into the South and East of Europe, which has clearly revealed internal economic and political imbalances. The EAEU has been so far unable to develop a coherent trade policy, which also results in an internal imbalance and a failure to achieve its main goal, namely the creation of a full-fledged free trade zone both inside the union and with potential external partners.

However, the risks facing the EAEU today are higher, as failed free trade mechanisms encourage its member states, in particular Kazakhstan which has already sent relevant signals, to launch a process of a partial or complete pivot towards EU norms and regulations. Given that Ukraine and Moldova have officially opted for the market of unified Europe (although the outcome of this choice is not yet predetermined), the EAEU’s window of opportunity is narrowing. Under these circumstances, the solution seems to boil down to seeking ways to interact with the EU, geopolitical differences notwithstanding.

At that, the EU should also be interested in finding a common denominator with the EAEU, as economic growth in Europe is slowing down and requires new and clear formats of economic relations with its eastern neighbors, including Russia. As long as the EU and the EAEU continue to be regarded as competing, rather than complementary projects, the region will have little chance for long-term sustainable development.

Sergey Rekeda:

My attitude towards the prospects for relations between the Eurasian Union and the European Union is rather skeptical. The reason is this. Back in 2015, the Eurasian Commission submitted a concrete proposal to the European Union. Six months is more than enough to prepare several, let alone one, responses to this initiative. However, the reply to the Eurasian Commission has not been received. There may be two possible explanations: either a mail delivery problem in the European Union or the EU’s lack of confidence in the development prospects of the Eurasian Union. The latter sounds more likely. The letter sent to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said that the relationship between the European Union and the Eurasian Union depends on the Minsk agreements.

Here again, there are two problems. First, why was the answer sent to the Russian president, and not to the leadership of the Eurasian Economic Commission, which would have been logical? Second, it is not Russia, but the parties to the conflict, namely Ukraine and Donbass, that have to abide by the Minsk agreements. Making the relationship between the Eurasian Union and the European Union dependent upon the internal Ukrainian conflict is a blind alley, since these two processes run parallel to each other and should develop independently. One can only conclude that the European Commission nowadays is not primed to a constructive dialogue with the Eurasian Union. At the moment, the EU does not regard the Eurasian Union as a subject of international politics. There can be only one way out, which is the steady further development of the EAEU project, until it becomes strong enough and leave Europe little choice but to take into account the interests of the EAEU when shaping its foreign policy.

Nikolai Kaveshnikov:

Establishing and developing relations between the European Union and the EAEU can become key components for shaping the positive development of Russia-EU relations in the future. However, this is only an outlook towards the future that we should bear in mind, while practical work in the coming years should focus on cooperation in various sectoral fields: combating terrorism, joint efforts to combat crime, migration issues and certain aspects of economic cooperation. Later on, when the positive dynamics gain ground, the time will come for a meaningful discussion and the making of plans for the EAEU-EU development with a longer time frame.


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