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Future of the EaP: opportunities and struggles

Including Russia in the ENP

Furthermore, the EU has to give up the Eurocentric approach to the politics and get proactively engaged with other important regional or external actors concerned. Russia is an important participant in every conflict of the EaP region, be it Crimea and Donbass in Ukraine, Transdnistria in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, or Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan. That is why, there can be no EaP strategy without a fully-fledged EU policy towards Russia. The EU needs the European Russia as a part of the European Neighbourhood Policy, but there is no European Russia and the Russia as it is today will never agree to play by the European rules.

The Union does not express the readiness to confront Russia, not even as a set of mind. Quite the reverse, the EU believes it needs Russia today as a partner: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi for example accentuated the Russian role in stabilizing Libya, Syria and Iraq [1]. Renzi described the current EU-Russia relations as “a difficult backdrop, linked to the European sanctions and the Russian counter-sanctions, which are obviously a problem for both sides.” France’s president Francois Hollande’s opposition to the NATO enlargement is another example [2]. Against this background, the EU might now need to try to adapt its ENP apparatus to Russia – so that the EU-Eurasian Union trade relationship becomes possible. The new call for the engagement with “the neighbours of the neighbours” was without a doubt a reference to Russia [3] and a step towards such cooperation might be made by the EU in the near future. All things considered, for the time being sanctions is the furthest that the EU can go with Russia, it has no solution for the Ukrainian crisis – one that would satisfy Ukraine. The EU will try to have at least the status quo and thinking of its own interests, develop economic relations with the Eurasian Union. The Riga summit will be a turning point in this sense: a certain message to Russia will be sent from the EU and the future EU-Russia relations will depend on the Kremlin’s ‘answer’.

EaP-countries should keep faith in the ENP

At the same time, the EU should be ready to accept the ramifications of such a move: EaP countries’ disappointment with and mistrust towards the EU especially in times of the strong Russian propaganda. Yet, from their side, it would be more practical for the EaP countries to try to take EaP for what it is, rather than as a tool against Russia. The EU at present is a weak geopolitical player in the region. In legal terms, the Union can always apply sanctions as a hard tool of the soft power but other expectations of hard power use are unrealistic at the time being. “Are we ready to fight against the Russian army? No, we are not. We don’t have a European defense”, – realistically put it former French minister of Foreign and European Affairs Bernard Kouchner at the Heinrich Boll conference “Ukraine, Russia and EU” in Berlin.

Appropriately, countries in conflict should not look at the ENP as conflict resolution mechanism that it might even never become. The maximum that the EU, in the competence it has today, can offer is the access to the single market and visa-free movement. Yet, it does not mean that the EU should not seek to develop conflict prevention, management and resolution capacities. It is high time the EU reaches the maturity in the security and defence spheres as it “cannot afford being a soft power champion only”, as the former NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer acknowledged at the CEPS ideas lab 2015.

The fundamental principle to remember is that the EU’s strengths begin where the nation states’ strengths ends. That means that whatever cannot be achieved on the national level, can theoretically be achieved on the supranational one. If France, UK, Germany don’t see how to solve the problems in the neighbourhood, the EU should! The EU can! At least more than Eurasian Union of today.

 

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