Having won the Cold War (perhaps largely due to the courage of the Russian people who threw off a communist dictatorship and were prepared to take risks), Europe seems to be losing the peace. The region is entering the next stage of international relations disunited and weakened, and poised for a confrontation or maybe even a large-scale war.
Wonderful slogans about “a common European home” (Mikhail Gorbachev), “A Europe whole and free” (George H.W. Bush), and the beginning of a “new era of democracy, peace, and unity” (the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe) – all of which looked achievable twenty-five years ago – produce a sad smile today.
All of this is happening amid Islamic radicalization, unprecedented destabilization in the Middle East, unresolved traditional global challenges, an extremely vulnerable international financial system, the emergence of new areas for rivalry between China and the United States, growing de-globalization, and a virtually collapsing system of international relations and law… The massive re-nationalization trend in world politics will inevitably sweep across the European Union – an island of stability – especially amid the systemic slowdown both in Russia and the EU.
The list of challenges continues to grow, while Western Europe and Russia – the strongest country on the continent – are wrangling on the verge of a civilized “divorce.” Western Europe can try to tuck its head under the U.S.’s wing again, of course, and Russia could form a de-facto strategic alliance with China, but either option will destroy the hopes for the united Europe everyone wanted to build at the end of the Cold War.
Is there any way for us not to lose the peace? I think so. But we must first understand how things got this way.
There are four reasons: the first is the inability to understand that Russia, on the one hand, and a majority of other countries on the continent, on the other hand, were and are diverging in socio-economic, moral, and psychological terms. We have lived largely in different eras. Second is the inability and reluctance to set a common goal for long-term co-development. Instead, and this is the third point, we have been witnessing the disagreement over the Soviet heritage and attempts to pin Russia down geopolitically, which initially led to war in South Ossetia and then to the conflict in Ukraine. The Cold War never ended de facto and is now reemerging. And the fourth reason is that there has been no serious and systemic dialogue between the two sides for almost twenty-five years. Instead Russia either was lectured to or assured of a common future. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich in 2007, initially designed as an invitation to a serious dialogue, met with a hostile reaction. Had the Europeans listened to Putin, many problems would have been avoided, including the current tragedy in Ukraine.
For Russia, relations with Europe are not so much a question of geopolitical orientation or economic ties as identity. Can Russia, plagued by political differences and the departure of a considerable number of European elites from European values as Russia understands them, give up its centuries-old cultural foundations that date back to Byzantium? The odds are actually quite high that it could, especially considering an ascending Asia, which for the first time in history is offering a geopolitical and economic alternative. In fact, current disagreements with the West provide a strong argument in favor of an economic and even political turn towards the East.
The situation is complex for Europe as well. Without an alliance with Russia Europe will lose its five-hundred-year political, economic, and cultural leadership. What would that mean for the self-sentiment of many, if not all, Europeans and their chances to keep their identity?
Russia and Another Europe
Despite the illusory hopes of the early 1990s, Russia and Europe within the EU developed at different speeds and in diverse directions. There were objective reasons for these processes, but European elites almost never assessed or discussed them. And that was their mistake. They failed to see the truth and had no wish to do so. This is why the current crisis came to them like a thunderbolt from a blue sky. Now some are feverishly trying to demonize Putin, while others are blaming “Merkel the betrayer.”
Hopes that Russia would choose the “European” path did not come true. But Europe is also changing; it is no longer the Europe that attracted the Russian people after their revolution. Russian impatience, an almost complete lack of real, rather than theoretical, experience of building capitalism, and unfortunate circumstances troubled Russia at the dawn of its new era.
A shock privatization campaign was launched to break the backbone of communism, but the overwhelming majority of Russians condemned it as robbery. The shock therapy reforms produced one of the ugliest forms of oligarchic quasi-capitalism. In fact, many Russians still consider huge amounts of private property as morally illegitimate.
Much worse, while lacking the necessary knowledge and seeking to get everything done as quickly as possible, the Russian reformers failed to grasp (or simply ignored) the main point – property without property rights is a sham. Their successors proclaimed the “dictatorship of law,” but did not introduce the right of ownership, because that would have interfered with privatization and the subsequent redistribution of property. Therefore, on top of its moral questionability, ownership had no legal protection. This is the major reason for the current economic slowdown and capital flight. It appears risky to invest or even keep assets in Russia. This is also the root cause of the lack of patriotism among the elites. The authorities are beginning to address this issue now, but they refuse to recognize its root causes. Indeed, as the prime source of systemic corruption, property can only be protected if it is “married” to power.
This is the actual result of Russia’s transition. Some in the West applauded it, delighted at the outward signs of Russia’s “Europeanization” or hoping to get a chunk of its property or power. However, Russia did not follow the European path which means, above all, the rule of law in both society and the economy.
A strategic mistake was also made in political reforms. Liberal-minded communists and their opponents thought that people did not have enough democracy. And so democracy was created from above by electing parliaments, governors, and mayors. Yet responsible citizens, the key element of human capital in any country, were never cultivated. Work only began recently to build the breeding grounds for civil society, which include the grassroots and municipal levels, and county self-rule.
As a result, “premature” top-tier democracy slowed development. By 1999, Russia had virtually turned into a failed state. If there had been a little Maidan in Moscow, the country would have fallen apart quickly. I always say and will keep saying that of all the explanations for the miracle of Russia’s salvation, the one that appears to be most plausible to me is that God forgave Russia for its sin of communism.
External circumstances were not favorable either: former adversaries did not try to finish us off, yet neither did they help (except for the humanitarian aid in 1990-1992 and the 11 billion Deutsch marks Germany provided to pay for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany). When the West “helped,” it did so by offering commercial loans conditioned on reforms, which angered many people. The Russian elite accepted the proposed rules of the “Washington consensus” and failed. As we know now, the success of developing countries generally comes from their refusal to play by these rules.
In Russia, the defense and protection of sovereignty has always been the principal national idea. Yet Russia was looked down upon and sometimes even told (not by Europeans) who should be appointed to the government, with those favored receiving explicit support. The West’s approach to Moscow objectively was a mild version of the Versailles policy even though this was never stated openly as a goal, and most politicians in Europe probably did not even suspect that. There were no scoffing, annexations, or contributions, but there was a policy of “victors,” who consistently drove the “defeated party” to bay, seeking to control its economic, political, and military interests. However, Russians did not feel defeated and the policy of NATO expansion engendered the Weimar Syndrome. Its first outburst was quashed only by a hard-won victory in the second Chechen war, which made Putin a national leader.
Europe within the European Union
Let me explain again where we differ conceptually. While Russia was restoring its sovereignty and statehood, the European Union was trying to overcome sovereignty and state nationalism, and to build a supranational community. This divergence became manifest when European countries almost unanimously condemned the Chechen war.
Essentially, the systems of values developed in the opposite direction. Most Russians sought to revive traditional moral standards destroyed during communism and embrace previously banned Christian beliefs. A public demand emerged for state patriotism that was not based on communist messianism, as well as for a new national identity and conservatism as the antithesis of revolutionary ideas that had brought so much suffering and trouble to the country and its people in the 20th century. It was believed that this was the way for Russia not only to regain itself, but also return to the Europe it had left in 1917.
However, European elites had tired of these values and considered them obsolete or even reactionary. The Old World set itself the goal of doing away with nationalism and even national patriotism, rejected many traditional moral principles, and drifted farther away from Christianity. No one knows whether this trend of the past thirty years will continue or if it will eventually be reversed. Yet Russian and Western European societies are at the opposite ends. Russia’s intent to make traditional values its banner meets unconcealed antagonism and raises concerns among the leading, and ruling, European elites, since they know that the majority of people in their countries share these values too.
Having burnt its fingers on top-tier democracy, which had almost brought the country to collapse and which people associated with the chaos, poverty, and humiliation of the 1990s, the Russian elite made an unpleasant, but unavoidable, turn towards “controlled” democracy; that is, a semi-authoritarian regime.
At basically the same time European elites started to advance their own democratic model and experience as the basis of “soft power.” From the early 2000s the EU policy has been increasingly dominated by democratic messianism that until then had only been found across the ocean.
Russian and European elites once again found themselves in opposition to each other. There is yet another explanation for this. Most societies and ruling circles in the West have long forgotten their revolutions. But top echelons of power in Russia do not want to see new disastrous upheavals similar to those that occurred in February 1917; or the democratic revolution of 1991, which has not yet ended in horror, but has almost led to the collapse of statehood. (Naturally, there is a minority within the Russian elite who were a majority in the 1990s, who do not share these conservative views and who even long for a new revolution. But society is not on their side, at least for now).
European politicians state repeatedly that the Old World could unite only on the basis of common values. They said so at first in order to get rid of the Russians, who were eager to become part of Europe. But eventually, the orators came to believe their own mantras. Given the ideological opposition described above, there was no question of drawing Russia into the unification process. However, this stance was contrary to the European political tradition where interests often united countries, leaders, and societies. Otherwise Nazi Germany would have won World War II. If one follows this logic, he would come to the conclusion that anti-European forces, such as Islamic radicals or non-European competitors, should gain the upper hand today.
Discordant systems of priorities were another reason why the “Greater Europe” concept failed. At first, the European Union had more important matters to deal with than Russia. Carried away by euphoria after the end of the Cold War, the EU was too preoccupied with its unbridled drive for enlargement and the creation of the euro. By the beginning of the 2000s, it had become clear that excessive enlargement without a political alliance had adversely affected the union’s stability and governability. By mid-decade it was obvious that the European Union had entered a long systemic crisis. The West – both the U.S. as its flagship and the EU – suffered a series of bitter and even humiliating failures.
On the one hand, the crisis distracts Europe from complex external projects, including the Russian one; on the other hand, it makes it unconsciously look for an external impulse for integration or even an external enemy. At one point it was the Soviet Union, a cautious and therefore not very dangerous, yet convenient, opponent. In addition, the countries that joined the EU almost genetically inclined to take revenge for past defeats and humiliations. In 2011-2012 those countries started making an enemy of Russia.
A counter-process was underway in Russia that led nowhere. Its elites did not want to, nor could they, admit previous mistakes and begin a new round of reforms. They sought to justify the deadlock or break it by looking for an external enemy and escalating confrontation in order to silence the dissenters and consolidate society at a minimum, or prod themselves into carrying out rapid modernization. The Russians succeeded in this only once, in the second half of the 20th century.
As a result, new confrontation is escalating, and, instead of becoming a third pillar for a future world order (along with the U.S. and China), Europe could actually become a problem for it.
EU countries with their problems and Russia with its partly flawed and partly uncompleted transformation will have to embark on extensive reforms in order to survive and preserve their status in a new world. If they worked together and supplemented each other, they could make changes easier and more effectively. Otherwise, they may never start them or may eventually fail. This is yet another argument in support of a new round of the “big European project.” It has not succeeded so far, thus endangering both the EU and Russian projects.
Moscow – Brussels
The enthusiasm of the first few post-revolution years (the Russian prime minister even spoke about the advisability of joining the European Union, and the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was signed in 1994) gradually gave way to growing estrangement, then to mutual irritation. Since the 1990s, the prevailing opinion in the EU has been that Russia should remain a junior partner. However, Russia sought to restore its sovereignty and establish equal relations. Prime Minister and then President Vladimir Putin made quite bold proposals in 1999-2000.
But those proposals, just like many others, were ignored. Russia continued to suggest various forms of union, while EU bureaucrats viewed Russia as just one of Europe’s fringe countries. As a result, a new treaty that would have replaced the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was never signed. Biannual summits, aimed at demonstrating Russia’s special status, were losing steam. Moreover, their agendas were filled with secondary issues, such as payments for flights over Siberia, bans on the re-export of meat from Poland, or restrictions on the sale of round timber to Finland. The inability to launch educational exchanges and scientific integration programs became another proof of failure. Thus, skilled professionals are leaving both the EU and Russia.
The rituals of shallow meetings and loud banners have replaced the initial realistic understanding of common interests (one of the worst banners, made in the East Germany-Soviet Union spirit, is the Petersburg Dialogue, on which Berlin has given up not because it is worthless, but because it wanted to irritate Russia). The latest banner is “Partnership for Modernization.” Russia’s top elite spoke much about it, but did not take any real steps. Russia’s European partners used it to mask their desire to continue to treat Russia as a junior partner, to hide their lack of a clear plan of action, and to conceal their intention to support an “agreeable” leader (Dmitry Medvedev). Such actions were futile and are one more cause for mutual irritation.
Russia made its last attempt to build closer and equal relations by inviting the EU not only to establish dialogue with the Customs/Eurasian Union, but also to build it within the European regulatory framework in order to facilitate further integration. But Brussels refused to play along and instead tried to continue expanding its own zone of influence. Eventually the EU agreed, but only after the disaster in Ukraine.
Among the reasons for the failure of Russia-EU relations, the most important is the unwillingness or inability to set a strategic goal. Without it both sides became mired in red tape and petty, albeit sometimes quite fierce, competition. The European Union sought to expand its soft control over territories that Russia considered its zone of interests. Gradually, this transformed into a zero-sum game and led to the Ukrainian crisis, although it was not the main cause.
However, the main problem in Russia-EU relations was elsewhere. EU enlargement was accompanied by NATO expansion. The latter was clearly regarded as a potentially hostile, if not altogether aggressive, organization, especially after the three-month NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia in 1999, which shocked even pro-Western politicians in Russia.
NATO enlargement was considered as treachery and a direct violation of written and unwritten agreements reached when the Soviet Union ceased confrontation, pulled out its troops from the Warsaw Pact countries, and agreed to and even assisted Germany’s reunification. Russia swallowed its pride after two rounds of NATO eastward expansion (which was probably a mistake), but it could not reconcile itself with NATO expansion into Ukraine. That would have created a completely unacceptable situation with a 2,000-km unprotected border with an alliance prone to aggression. Russia regarded such moves almost as a reason for a large-scale war. Attempts to draw Kiev into NATO were made in 2007-2008. The desire to see Ukraine in the alliance was stipulated in NATO’s Bucharest Declaration of 2008 and has been reaffirmed repeatedly in the last several years.
Against this background, the West’s support for the Maidan protests and the overthrow of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich triggered a preemptive strike from Russia. It seems that the incorporation of Crimea and the support for the rebels in Donbass were undertaken by Russia to ward off an even bigger catastrophe. The strike targeted the very logic of NATO expansion, but it also impacted empty and competitive, yet quite peaceful, relations with the European Union.
Berlin – Moscow
The growing estrangement, if not concealed animosity, between Moscow and Berlin is a major failure of the European policy. At risk is one of the main pillars of peaceful order in Europe – the special friendly relations between the two countries and their people established by German chancellors Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl, and Gerhard Schröder, and their Soviet and Russian partners. The other pillar is the European Union, where the fading Berlin-Paris axis still exists, but is becoming increasingly fractured. It remains to be seen how deep these fissures can go if the Russian-German pillar collapses.
While not completely giving up national egoism and occasional involvement in doubtful campaigns like the bombing of Yugoslavia and the operation in Afghanistan, Germany has built a new identity by protecting and advancing its interests using mainly soft economic power. German policy has been so efficient at this that the country has become a leading force in the EU. Germany’s political system, created on the ruins of the Third Reich and probably the most effective in the world, has secured the country’s development and the loyalty of a majority of its citizens.
Russia, which had to rebuild its statehood and identity, did so in the Bismarckian manner, the old German way that was almost completely opposite to that used in modern Germany. No serious effort has been made to analyze this difference in the two countries’ historical experience and development paths.
The Russian elite and society view the confrontation with Germany over Ukraine as either (the simplest view) “the chancellor is hooked” by the U.S. National Security Agency or (a more sophisticated view) as Berlin adapting the Old World to its own needs to save “the German Europe.” Another view which has become ever more noticeable in the yellow press and especially in online blogs is that the Germans have decided to create “a fourth Reich” and consider Ukraine an integral part of this plan.
Germany believes that Russian policy in Crimea and Ukraine stems solely from the Putin regime’s desire to retain power. So Germany has to restore the status quo ante in order to preserve the peaceful order in Europe as its guarantor. However, Russia, a country with an outlook that goes beyond Europe, holds that the recklessness and lawlessness committed in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya, and Western support for the suicidal Arab Spring have destroyed the international order, and either its legitimacy should be restored or countries should live by the law of the jungle. Whether current views are fair or not is irrelevant. In the absence of serious dialogue and attempts to sort things out, this is the prevailing reality.
Was this confrontation unavoidable? To some extent it was: the countries and their societies did not come closer, as they had when the Soviet Union was about to do away with the old regime. Instead they moved apart. This confrontation was largely caused by the failure of the elites, which did not want or were unable to understand each other and to set common realistic co-development goals.
At stake now is not only the second pillar of the European peaceful order, but also the historical integration of the two nations. After all, the Russian people forgave the Germans for their horrible crimes during World War II. If the past comes back, it will also come to the rest of Europe, where anti-German sentiment is ever more pronounced, and the continent will morally be thrown back fifty years. Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel, who already have no special liking for each other, and the Russian and German people are facing a truly historic challenge. They must make sure that history does not repeat itself.
Prospects for a way out
The sides could of course try to revive the Cold War by strengthening NATO, moving its forward deployed forces towards the Russian border, deploying new Russian missiles, and restoring some elements of systemic confrontation. They could try to arm Ukraine or limit not only economic, but also human contacts between Russia and the West, and further increase, if even possible, the exchange of slander and lies.
What would make this confrontation different from the Cold War is that the current Russian elites remember how the West acted after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his allies had decided to end the Cold War in a dignified manner. They no longer have any illusions about politics. Also, despite the crisis, the positions of Russia are stronger than those of the former Soviet Union. It would not be a problem to feed the people now. Russia is confronted not only by the monolithic West together with China as before, but also by a West that has found itself in a completely different historical paradigm. China and the rest of the Non-West, which has gained so much strength recently, sympathize with Russia. And Russia is unlikely to wait for the still strong West to finish it off. So, if the sides do not stop and come to an agreement, the crisis will worsen.
Ukraine will be strangled or most likely destroyed if it receives military assistance. And then it will be time to see whether Western leaders and people have come to their senses after realizing that the current and previous rulers brought Europe and the world to war. If the policy does not change, things could escalate further. This could also occur because of another “black swan;” that is, an unexpected catastrophe or provocation.
I do not want to think about what Europe will be like after such a clash, even if Russia prevails. All the efforts of Europeans to build a peaceful continent after World War II will have been hopeless, just like the hopes of the early 1990s which are about to turn into ashes. In this kind of situation, well-intended attempts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis without eliminating its root causes will be doomed.
There is a solution, of course.
First, intellectual and political mistakes made over the past twenty-five years should be jointly reviewed in a fair and open manner.
Second, the difference in values should be recognized as legitimate, with the basic cultural principles shared by both sides. Russian and other European societies should be allowed to develop in their own way and at their own pace. Faced with international competition, Europeans outside of Russia will most likely become more realistic or even conservative. Under normal circumstances, Russian society will start building a state ruled by law and eventually its own, mature and full-fledged democracy.
Third, one must understand that confrontation, even under the “best case” scenario without a head-on collision, would cost dearly and distract the EU from the internal modernization crucial for its survival. European society is so strongly opposed to confrontation that it cannot be consolidated by declaring Russia a common enemy.
Russia will face the increased risk of becoming too dependent on China even though that country is only a semi-ally. Many in Russia believe that confrontation will spur internal development. On the contrary, it distracts attention and resources from domestic reforms and the overdue economic turn to Asia through the development of regions east of the Urals.
Fourth, the sides should realize that the opening up of the economic, human, and energy space between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union from Lisbon or Dublin to Vladivostok will not solve all of their problems, but will boost their development.
This is precisely what Russia offered to do when it proposed to institutionalize the OSCE, join NATO, sign a new European security treaty, create a Union of Europe, promote closer integration between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union through dialogue and harmonization of legal and regulatory frameworks, and gradually open up the markets. These steps would not run counter to the special relations between the EU and the U.S., nor between Russia and China; that is, if one does not set them against each other intentionally (as some have been doing in fact, which indeed is a shortfall policy).
I understand what should be done, but it should be done together. I would also like to discuss what should not be done.
Arms limitation should not be allowed to become the focal point of relations again, for it would only revive bloc mentality and remilitarize European politics in much the same way as what happened in the late 1980s.
The OSCE as a pan-European organization should not be bypassed. But as an organization that also bears the mark of the Cold War and its own institutional memory, it should not implement reform itself. Its reformation should be carried out within the OSCE, but initiated outside of it. The OSCE is an important practical instrument, an indispensable tool for resolving local conflicts, using tested mechanisms for easing tensions, and stabilizing a situation wherever a confrontation occurs. This is an important enough mission to focus on rather than try to “burden” the OSCE with even more ambitious European governance functions.
The Helsinki process should not be repeated since it could revive bloc diplomacy for years to come, with questionable results. It would be better to ask a team of experts to draft a new treaty, the text of which can then be coordinated and agreed on at the top level.
There is one more point to make. Europe is not the center of the world, nor is it an isolated territory where its destiny is decided. Its current problems are part of a more complex global system where everyone affects everyone else. For this reason it is impossible to view Europe separately from Eurasia or the Middle East. In fact, everything is closely intertwined in the world. Perhaps it would be useful to think about engaging China and other key Central and Eastern Eurasian countries in the discussion, just as the United States and Canada were brought into the European processes before.
A new world architecture should also accommodate countries located between Russia and the EU/NATO, acknowledge some unrecognized states, coordinate the resolution of frozen conflicts, and, just as important, take joint and concerted efforts to keep Ukraine from social and state disintegration and turn it into an area of cooperation rather than struggle.
This may seem illusory at a time when mistrust has reached unprecedented levels and the U.S. is apparently seeking further European divisions. But it is the lack of truly joint work over the past twenty years that largely has precipitated the current crisis.
When at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s the architects of European integration and the farsighted Americans who supported them came up with ideas that led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (and later the European Economic Community and eventually the European Union), most European nations hated each other and all of them hated Germany. But the founding fathers had the courage to put forth breakthrough ideas that brought peace and order to the biggest part of Europe.
The last twenty-five years have largely been wasted. The world has become a more dangerous place, Europe is about to split up and become weaker or even slide into a large-scale war. Europe is not united enough to influence the world. Unless it works out a new ambitious and unifying idea on the way to a distant but palpable and, most importantly, common goal, Europe will inevitably fall apart along old and new dividing lines. The Ukrainian crisis and its demons will continue spreading.
If the leaders of Russia, the rest of Europe, the U.S., and those countries that would like to join them set such goals for themselves, it would be much easier to work in the Minsk, Normandy, or any other format in order to stop or curb the conflict in Ukraine and help it build its future. Unless there is a common goal, I am afraid that the people of Ukraine, who are facing the watershed, and the whole of Europe will be doomed to experience the worst time ever.
There are significant difficulties ahead and many opportunities have been missed, but it is worth trying. Otherwise, both Russians and other Europeans will throw away one more common value – their belief in common sense.
Republished from MD Partner RIAC
A New Wave of Euroscepticism in the Heart of Europe?
As we are about to enter a new decade, the European Union seems to be facing one of its worst existential crises since its conception. Euroscepticism is not something new; ever since the efforts to achieve the European integration started in the 1950s political parties that made of anti-integration their main platform started to mushroom throughout the continent. the current pandemic, lockdown measures, an economic crisis that looms seem to be exacerbating divisive trends in Europe.
Most recently, the 2008 and 2009 financial crises that brought radicalism, populism, and fringe politics to the forefront of the political agenda again, especially in southern Europe which felt the worst effects of the economic downturn: Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. six years later, in 2015, the migrant crisis further deepened the already existing fractures among member states, and particularly throughout Eastern Europe, the continent witnessed can you surge in populist narratives, however this was also the case in countries that had been traditionally immune to such rhetoric such as the Scandinavian countries, and Sweden in particular.
There is a false sense of Swedish exceptionalism for welcoming refugees. it is true that Sweden has been a generous safe haven for migrants, and they have received more refugees than many other European countries. However, one cannot assume such policy truly reflects the sentiments of the population. soon after Sweden started welcoming migrants, political parties started to turn to an ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant rhetoric blaming massive immigration for a possible collapse of their health, social and welfare systems.
Sweden is not an isolated case, populists have had considerable media exposure and have successfully started to alter the political agenda of the European Union in recent years. they cannot and should not be taken lightly. radical political parties do have realistic chances to become mainstream alternatives and attain power in many European countries such as France, Italy, Greece, The Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Hungary, and the UK.
Populism is particularly appealing to those that feel they do not belong in a new ever-changing reality because of its reactive nature. populism reminds voters of glorious pastthat is long gone because of the actions of those currently in power. populism thrives on the division of “us” vs “them”, and on the need to protect national institutions and inherent values that are being eroded and attacked.
While Euroscepticism trends started to subside ask the European economies started to grow and the migrant inflow started to stabilise , there was a widely spread false sentiment of stability and the assumption that Euroscepticism would wither away. Brexit and the domestic and international chaos it caused in the UK and in Europe reinforced this perception. soon after the failure in negotiations and the never-ending extensions of the process did translate into a drop in the demands for a membership referendum in most European countries. However, the current development may as well reverse that trend
Populist leaders across the continent have already started to use the pandemic to legitimise many of their prior ideological stances: protectionism; anti- globalization; anti-immigration policies; closure of borders; nationalism and tougher law and order policies. Italy so country that could dictate where European politics will head to in coming months or years. Italy has been hit particularly hard in this pandemic, not only by the high human cost, but also by the dark economic prospects for the country. Italy will be stricken by the worst economic contractions in Europe and its debt is expected to rise two over 150% of their GDP. Italy is therefore set for one of the longest recoveries in Europe. with all this into account, the idea that Italy could follow the UK in its anti-European mode is something that should not be that lightly put away.
Italy has been suffering from a wave of European anti integration sentiment since the 2008 crisis, according to a survey by the Tecné Agency, 42% of Italians are in favour of withdrawal from the EU, by December last year, only 26% of them supported the idea. This percentage could increase if Italians are not happy with post-pandemic measures and could further enflame North and South existing tensions. the pandemic has struck pre-existing weaknesses and frailties and has played on a sense of abandonment. populists in Italy are not an exception amidst this pandemic: they are returning to their very familiar core book: they are portraying themselves as the only answer to protect the people.
Italians feel they were abandoned by the rest of the European Union to fend for themselves; even now when the European Union has decided on a massive asset-purchase scheme of Eurobonds or coronabonds, the Union is blind to the fact that economies among their member states will be affected differently. these has also reinforced the belief that this measure is contrary to the solidarity principle the union is based upon. Ideally, to prevent widespread feelings of inaction a lack of solidarity, Germany and France should possibly toy with the idea of a shared debt, especially when there are already apparent cases of serious insolvency from southern member states. this can also potentially limit the support for populism across the continent.
Italy in particular he’s a worrying case, unlike the UK with Brexit, Italy is a founding member of the European Union and if they were to hold a referendum on European Union membership with the same result as the 2016 one in the UK it would be catastrophic for the European Union’s credibility and legitimacy. this is a very realistic result as the post pandemic continues to impact on the continents social, economic, and political cohesion; and especially in countries, like Italy, which have been flirting on and off with populism, and they seem to be a crisis away from becoming the next Brexit or the next debt disaster in Europe.
Kosovo between USA and EU
The issue of Kosovo is yet again becoming one of the hottest on the international agenda. While the US administration is set on the early (before the presidential elections in November) signing of an agreement on normalizing relations through territorial exchanges, the European Union leadership, under pressure from Germany, is pursuing their own agenda: a settlement of political crisis in the region and prevention of a new territorial carve-up in the Balkans. These differences can well result in a buildup of tension on both coasts of the Atlantic not only regarding the Balkan but also in relation to other burning international issues.
So far, the United States is somewhat outplaying the EU on this issue. The Trump administration, after securing solidarity with Kosovo’s President Hashim Taci in his confrontation with radical Prime Minister Albin Kurti, has de facto forced the latter to resign. It is the leader of the Self-Determination Radical Movement who is strongly opposed to an agreement with Belgrade and partition of Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian parts in exchange for the lifting of Serbia’s objections to Pristina’s membership in international organizations. Considering that Serbia’s position is backed by Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, there are grounds to assume that Serbia’s refusal to counteract efforts by Kosovo diplomacy will mean Kosovo’s admission to the UN as an independent state – even in the absence of a legal acknowledgment of independence on the part of Belgrade and a number of EU members (Spain Greece, Cyprus, Rumania and Slovakia).
Understandably, the EU leadership is categorically against such a prospect as undermining the unity of the organization and fraught with new changes of the Balkan borders. Brussels has been doing its utmost to consolidate Kosovo’s political landscape and at the same time isolate the chief “negotiator” with Belgrade – President Hashim Taci. The EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said openly on May 7 that Kosovo needed a strong and stable government. Commenting on the situation following the vote of no confidence in the Albin Kurti Cabinet pronounced by the Kosovo Parliament on March 25, the Commissioner pointed out that ‘time is too valuable to be lost’: “If we do want to overcome the crisis, if we do mean to put Kosovo on the European track, we must do everything we can to come to an early solution in order to set up a sustainable government”.
Pristina should have no doubts which side Brussels is on in matters relative to Kosovo’s government and partition of Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian parts. To this end, the next day, on May 8th, spokesperson for Kosovo in European Parliament Viola von Cramon said that Germany is against changing the borders between Serbia and Kosovo. In her words, any carve-up of borders in Western Balkans requires public approval at the referendum. «A solution is not in the hands of the presidents of two countries since an agreement they sign is to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries and be acceptable for all», – she said in an interview on the Kosovo TV Channel RTK.
Simultaneously, she de facto acknowledged the presence in the EU of grave differences on a further development of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. When answering a question by a Kosovo journalist as to when we can expect liberalization of visa regime between Serbia and Kosovo, Viola von Cramon said that along with the current difficulties it looks like within the EU there is no political will to take such a decision.
Spain is among countries which refuse to acknowledge self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo and which speak against a carve-up of Balkan borders. Spanish media and public opinion have been following closely all the possible scenarios of the development of the situation in the Balkans through the prism of the country’s own problems that have to do with separatism on the part of Basques and Catalonians. However, they are fairly skeptical about EU efforts.
The Spanish El Mundo writes in this regard that «in the heat of coronavirus epidemic the heads of state and government of 27 EU members and six Balkan countries held a video conference. «It is not a summit on EU expansion», – Spain keeps repeating. For if it were different, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez would have never agreed to take part in a high-level event, which was also attended by Kosovo’s president. This summit is designed to bring the sides concerned closer and bridge the differences. Citing Brussels’ sources El Mundo admits that the EU will not be able to offer the Balkan partners the prospect of early membership in the alliance , despite reports about the start of preliminary talks with Albania and North Macedonia. «Practically everybody came to the conclusion that the European Union would not expand for at least another ten years. What happened in 2004, when 10 countries joined the EU at a time, will not take place again. No appetite, no desire. And in the light of disagreements with Hungary and Poland in recent years, nobody wants more experiments», – El Mundo reports.
Mass media in Turkey – a country that found itself locked out of the EU – are as frank in their comments on the crisis in the EU’s Balkan policy. «The decision to start talks with Albania and North Macedonia about a full membership in the European Union means that the EU’s influence in Western Balkans will increase. However, this does not mean that the region will fully fall under the influence of the EU. For nearly 20 years the Balkans have been a buffer zone between big powers. Western Balkan countries where the US influence is strong include Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia», – the Turkish Anadolu Ajansı news agency.
Meanwhile, it is essential to remember that a mere idea – even if hypothetical – of granting Kosovo and other Balkan territories membership in the EU comes instrumental in confrontation with the USA. The latter can use financial and military-technical support but cannot promise membership in regional blocs or multilateral trade agreements. «The battle for influence in Western Balkans is currently in full swing. Given the circumstances, it is possible to say that the EU, which chose to start talks with Albanian and North Macedonia on full membership in the European Union, outflanked its competitors and has hit the top», – the Turkish news agency reports: «Besides, the EU considers it an advantage that countries such as Greece, Slovenia and Croatia are members of the EU, while Serbia and Montenegro continue talks on membership in the EU».
Given the situation, Russia is set on close coordination of effort with Serbian leaders and support of negotiating process in a format that makes it possible to take into account the interests of Serbs and ensures the possibility of a compromise. Simultaneously, Moscow underscores the priority of the UN mechanisms over any other formats of negotiations (including under the patronage of the EU) and the importance of taking any decisions that could be reached between Belgrade and Pristina to the UN Security Council.
From our partner International Affairs
A Sad Anniversary: Ten Years of the Partnership for Modernization
One approaching anniversary seems almost entirely lost in this spring’s torrent of different celebrations and commemorative dates. Ten years ago, the “Partnership for Modernization” Russia-EU Initiative was launched. Let us recap: at the 25th Russia-EU summit in Rostov-on-Don on May 31—June 1, 2010, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and President of the European Commission Jose Barroso announced that the Partnership marked a new stage and level in the cooperation between Moscow and Brussels.
Back then, the parties also outlined the priorities for their joint efforts. These included expanding opportunities for investment in the key sectors driving growth and innovations, bolstering and deepening bilateral trade and economic collaboration, and promoting small- and medium-sized enterprises. The parties noted they would prioritize the alignment of technical regulations and standards and enhanced protection of intellectual property rights. Transportation earned special mention.
Promoting a sustainable low-carbon economy and energy efficiency, and support for international talks on fighting climate change were also set as forward-looking areas for sectoral cooperation. The parties agreed to strengthen collaboration in innovation, research and development, as well as space exploration. They noted the need to ensure balanced development by addressing the regional and social consequences of economic restructuring. Additionally, the Partnership envisioned effective functioning of the judiciary and stepping up the fight against corruption, promoting people-to-people links and boosting dialogue with civil society in order to foster participation by individuals and businesses.
Russia and the European Union pinned great hopes on this initiative. On the one hand, both Moscow and Brussels clearly saw that, following the surge in the early 21st century, Russia–EU relations were stalling and becoming bogged down in endless bureaucratic approvals and they were slowed down by many disagreements within the EU itself. Russia–EU biannual summits were gradually losing substance and were becoming less and less productive. The prospects for achieving agreement on such fundamental issues as energy cooperation or a visa-free regime remained vague, while the timeline for signing a new Russia–EU framework agreement to replace the hopelessly outdated 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was moving further and further into the indeterminate future.
On the other hand, the overall political climate at the turn of the first and second decades of the 21st century favoured new initiatives in Russia-Europe relations and prompted the parties to set more ambitious goals. By 2010, the Russia–US “reset” mechanism had already been launched, Moscow’s relations with Central European states, including Poland, were gradually improving; the EU had emerged from another constitutional crisis, and the armed conflict in the South Caucasus was receding into the past. Economic ties between Russia and its western neighbours had passed through the ordeal of the global financial and economic crisis of 2008-2009 and demonstrated steady positive dynamics.
Accordingly, the parties viewed the Partnership for Modernization agreement as summing up a certain intermediate stage in Russia–EU relations and creating an additional positive impetus for endowing these relations with new dynamics. Both Moscow and Brussels had reasons to be optimistic about the future: the second decade of the 21st century promised momentous new achievements, new political and economic breakthroughs in both the West and the East of Europe.
Nowadays, the 10th anniversary of the Partnership for Modernization is unlikely to attract much attention either in Russia or in the European Union. European leaders will not arrive at a new Russia–EU summit. Experts, entrepreneurs and journalists will not flock to crowded international conferences and forums marking the anniversary. The participants in the Rostov-on-Don summit will not be looking back and reminiscing to the younger generation about the preparations, discussions, and signing of the historic Partnership announcement. The coronavirus pandemic that has stopped all air travel in a petrified Europe and imposed a strict moratorium on public events is not the only reason for this. The thing is, the Partnership is no longer worth mentioning in either the West or East.
Jose Barroso, Former President of the European Commission, has been working for the USA’s Goldman Sachs for a long time; his move to the private sector was scandalous and prompted a special investigation by the European Union. Dmitry Medvedev left the office of Russian President less than two years after the Partnership was launched and, since January 2020, following his appointment as Deputy Chair of Russia’s Security Council, he is no longer involved in matters of international economic cooperation. Today, neither of these men apparently sees the Partnership for Modernization as one of their principal political achievements. Quite possibly, many of those who worked in some way on preparing the Partnership today feel a little bit awkward: how naïve and gullible we were ten years ago if we could discuss such a document in earnest!
It is hard to believe today that, just ten years ago, such in-depth cooperation between Brussels and Moscow could have been discussed as a practical matter. It is equally hard to believe that, in November 2010, the President of Russia attended the Russia–EU summit in Lisbon and discussed the practical prospects for partnership relations between Moscow and NATO based on delineating areas of responsibility for maintaining global security.
History has amended the plans of the Rostov-on-Don summit’s participants as it saw fit. The second decade of the 21st century was a time of trial for both Russia and the EU. Both parties are emerging from this decade with a heavy burden of new and unforeseen problems; acutely exacerbated bilateral relations make this burden all the heavier. Neither the East nor the West of Europe is any longer suffused with the cheerful historical optimism of ten years ago.
Given the radically new circumstances, is it worth remembering the events of ten years ago? Apparently it is, at least to understand what went wrong, why great expectations gave way to bitter disappointments, why, instead of an upswing, everything that had been achieved collapsed. These recollections are necessary at least for us to be able to assess the prospect for Russia-EU interactions in the third decade of the 21st century realistically.
Some believe (especially in Europe, but there are also some proponents in Russia) that, as regards implementing the Partnership for Modernization, everything went well between Moscow and Brussels up until the events in Crimea and Donbass in the spring and summer of 2014. Had there been no 2014 crisis, we would have been reaping the rich harvest of a decade of a mutually advantageous partnership and would have been building tremendous plans for the future.
The tragic events of 2014 did, indeed, draw a bold line under a long stretch of Russia–EU relations, as well as nullifying the Partnership’s prospects. Yet it would be a mistake to reduce all the problems to a single, if extremely acute, crisis. Had everything been going well with the Partnership (and the plans envisioned a new framework agreement following hard on the heels of the Partnership), the 2014 crisis is unlikely to have taken place. The parties would have had enough common sense and specific economic stimuli not to cross the line that separated us from a rapid and irreversible exacerbation of relations. And, if the line was, indeed, irreversibly crossed (be it in January, March or July 2014), this would have meant that, by 2014, the parties already had no particular expectations concerning the Partnership for Modernization achieving its full fruition or some positive breakthroughs taking place in bilateral relations in general. In other words, the four years of joint work within the Partnership’s framework did not perform their role of a deterrent that, under other circumstances, the parties might have hoped for.
The Partnership’s Ambiguity: Contents and Mechanisms
Did the Partnership concept contain some initial flaws, drawbacks or ambiguities that prevented its fully-fledged implementation? Today, looking back at it with the benefit of decade-long hindsight, we have to answer that question positively. From the very outset, the concept had inbuilt contradictions inherent in both the very term “modernization” and in the priority mechanisms chosen for implementing the concept.
Let us begin with the contents. When coordinating the Partnership’s concept and when implementing it, Russia invariably stressed its technological and innovative dimension. President Dmitry Medvedev repeatedly emphasized that the concept applied primarily to deepening cooperation in high tech spheres. These have always been among the most difficult and sensitive for international cooperation in general and between Russia and the West in particular. Implementing the idea of Russia and the EU’s mutual “interpenetration” into each other’s high-tech economic sectors can be likened to the most difficult open-heart surgery, which could only be performed by a top-notch professional. Even with both parties having the political will for it, it was virtually inevitable that they would run into many difficulties in the way of the Russia-EU “modernization alliance’s” functioning.
The EU focused most on Russia’s social and political modernization, on bringing Russia’s institutions and practices up to the European level. The “Partnership for Modernization” was frequently seen as some analogue of the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme for Central European states, which mostly emphasized the humanitarian and legal aspects. Naturally, the EU would act as the mentor and Russia was assigned the role of obedient student. That also required Brussels to act with the utmost delicacy and caution (brain surgery?), which, sadly, it did not. Suffice it to recall here the activities of the EU–Russia Civil Society Forum: Brussels officials assumed the unilateral right to determine who in Russia had the right to represent this civil society and who did not. Since Russia, unlike Central European states, was not aiming to join the European Union, such a pointedly and obtrusively paternalistic attitude on the part of the EU could not but annoy Moscow.
These contradictions in defining “modernization” probably were not irreconcilable and could have been settled somehow. Moscow could have acknowledged that technological modernization is closely linked to social modernization, while it is impossible to attract European investment and technologies without improving state governance, reforming the judiciary, protecting intellectual property and the rights of investors. Brussels could have remembered that the EU had always been rather flexible in applying the principle of “political conditionality” (the requirements that the EU’s partners respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law) and could have used the experience of the EU’s relations with, for instance, China. Brussels could have entertained a broader definition of “civil society” leaders in Russia, adding some politically neutral organizations working on environmental issues, education, socially-orientated business, etc. to politically-engaged NPOs. Unfortunately, both parties preferred to insist on their own interpretations of the Partnership’s priorities, thereby provoking a negative response from their counterpart.
The parties’ different approaches were manifested in their ideas concerning the forward-looking mechanisms for implementing the Partnership. Europe would have liked to emphasize “bottom-up” modernization, meaning modernization originating in the private sector, expert networks and civil society and moving toward major economic projects and sectoral cooperation. Russia, on the contrary, prioritized “top-down” modernization, that is, modernization originating with the government and ministries and moving toward individual enterprises. Moscow had always pinned its principal hopes on sectoral dialogue as the principal mechanism for implementing the Partnership. That is, the parties’ ideas concerning the cooperation drivers were quite different from the outset.
Let us add to the mix such a complicating factor as significant structural differences in the economies in the West and the East of Europe: Moscow had always pinned its principal expectations concerning the Partnership’s implementation on big business, while Brussels invariably emphasized the EU prioritization of development of cooperation at the small- and medium-sized business level. Consequently, Russia calling for the partners in Brussels to launch the development of specific large-scale infrastructure projects and create socially significant manufacturing enterprises did not prompt a particularly enthusiastic response on the part of EU officials.
On the other hand, the EU negotiators never missed an opportunity to say that Russia’s modernization could not be efficient and comprehensive if it did not extend to the so-called “strategic sectors” protected from foreign competition by their special legal and political status and not having real stimuli for technological re-equipment and introduction of up-to-date corporate governance. It is easy to imagine the response these statements must have prompted among influential top managers of Russia’s state corporations!
Under different circumstances, a mutually acceptable balance between these two approaches could probably have been found. Unfortunately, when it came to Russia, the traditional “agency-based” practice of structuring such projects was in the way: the efforts of government officials were rarely supplemented by the requisite mobilization of the expert community. The activities of the Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR) were an exception as INSOR came to be an important venue for collaboration between officials and independent experts. As for the European Union, it was incapable of implementing the Partnership in the “top-down” format simply because the relevant agencies in Brussels were institutionally weak: the given departments of the European Commission, headed by their Directors General, could only loosely be seen as direct counterparts of Russian ministries and agencies headed by federal ministers.
It appears, however, that the fatal blow to implementation of the Partnership was delivered by something other than the differences outlined above. Such an initiative could have been implemented only if it had been constantly kept in sight by the parties’ top leadership unconditionally prioritizing it. In the meantime, over the years since the Partnership was signed, Russia was gradually moving away from the innovative development strategy, at least in the shape and form formulated during Dmitry Medvedev’s Presidency. Jose Barroso’s team, in turn, rapidly lost interest in the Partnership following Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin and switched its attention to other projects on the eastern frontiers of the European Union.
The Virtue of Necessity
We cannot go back to the year 2010. Even if, by some miracle, the conflict within and around Ukraine were to be solved promptly, on mutually acceptable grounds, the contradictions inherent in the Partnership for Modernization would not go away. Additionally, ten years on, the concept has definitely become obsolete. Our world is now different, the relations between its major actors are structured differently, the dominant ideas of the main challenges and threats faced by individual states and by humanity as a whole have changed radically.
Yet it is too early to write off the Partnership for Modernization. Its relevance might increase precisely because the past ten years have proven to be such a trial for both Brussels and Moscow. Although the European Quarter in Brussels and the Kremlin in Moscow still sound triumphant fanfares, the off-key notes in that cheerful music can be heard with increasing clarity. Little is now left of the former triumphant sentiments of both the European and Russian elites and of the European and Russian societies. The European Union faced an unprecedented migration crisis, experienced a sharp upswing in the popularity right-wing populists and Euro-sceptics, went through a painful divorce from the UK and found itself on the receiving end of the USA’s previously unthinkable hostility.
Russia had to face a variety of economic sanctions, withstand the devaluation of its currency and a drop in the population’s real incomes, and acknowledge the essential loss of its energy superpower status. Both parties are among the countries and regions particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Although, over the last ten years, both the European Union and Russia have demonstrated an impressive ability to weather shocks, it must be acknowledged today they have far fewer objective grounds than ten years ago for confidence in a sunny future. Recognizing one’s weakness and vulnerability and realizing one’s common interests with a partner—surely this is a combination that produces readiness to compromise?
Europe found itself squeezed between the US, which still dominates the world and looks on Europe with ever diminishing favour, and China, which is gradually gaining power. Naturally, expanding cooperation with Moscow will not resolve all of Europe’s problems, but it might turn out to be an instrument for buttressing the EU’s current standing in global politics and the global economy and, as such, it clearly should not be neglected.
Having lost a significant chunk of its natural resource rent, Russia is being forced to seek a new socio-economic development model, and it will have to do so under extremely unfavourable external circumstances. Where will it be looking for this model? Perhaps China, India or Singapore? Even given all their advantages, it is doubtful that Asian modernization models would suit the predominantly European society that Russia was in 2010, is in 2020, and will remain in 2030, irrespective of what the many proponents of “Eurasian identity” would like to convince us of.
Is this not an incentive to start working on Partnership for Modernization 2.0? Sceptics are likely to ask: what about the unresolved problems in the east of Ukraine? What about the continuing divergence between the Russian and European political development tracks? What about the unconditional priority both Brussels and Moscow accord their own domestic issues? These questions are reasonable and fair. Yet we will never be able to answer them if we remain unable at least to pencil in a general outline of the desired common future. An attractive image of a desired future should, among other things, become a powerful stimulus for overcoming the negative legacy of the past decade, for resolving the specific issues that stand in the way of a new rapprochement between Russia and the EU.
We would very much hope that the anniversary of the Partnership for Modernization will become not only a reason to mourn the failed hopes of the past decade but also an incentive to think about the opportunities offered by the next ten years.
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