IEP Lunch Debate with Joachim Bertele, Federal Chancellery: “European Ostpolitik from the German Perspective”

The IEP Lunch Debate on the theme “European Ostpolitik from the German Perspective” with Dr. Joachim Bertele, group leader for foreign policy, security policy, and global questions in the Federal Chancellery, took place on 14 December, 2016, in the Europäisches Haus. Dr. Bertele was welcomed by Richard Kühnel, Repre­sen­tative of the European Commission in Germany.  The event was moderated by Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, Director of the Institute for European Politics (IEP).

At the forefront of the conver­sation stood the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and the relationship with Russia. It was noted that the eastern neigh­bours are, due to their close political, economic and cultural connec­tions, of particular impor­tance to the European Union. The Eastern Partnership, with its offers of associ­ation, compre­hensive free trade and visa liber­al­i­sation – instru­ments of reform and increased closeness – is of equal impor­tance. Regarding the relationship with Russia, the necessity of the European Union to be united in the question of sanctions (with the goals of imple­menting the Minsk Protocol and condemning the annex­ation of Crimea, which contra­dicted inter­na­tional law) was under­lined, while reference was also made to the sounding out of chances for future cooper­ation with the country.

Cooper­ation with Russia was said to be certainly difficult, yet possible. The year 2010/2011 was named as a starting point, as there were attempts to cooperate not only in the realms of political fora, such as the OSCE, the NATO-Russia Founding Act, etc., but also, together with Russian counter­parts, to contribute to the modern­ization and refor­mation of the Russian Feder­ation. It was then noted that after the beginning of Putin’s third term in May 2012, the situation in Russia changed dramat­i­cally as the country moved in an ever more author­i­tarian direction. It was also to be under­stood that the Kremlin’s inter­vention in neigh­boring countries and the EU became increas­ingly active. Anti-liberal parties were thus specif­i­cally supported (among others, the Front National), or influence on domestic political debates was sought through the use of fake news (for example, the case of Lisa F.). Russian foreign policy was said to be based on geopo­litical principles. The notion of the existence of a geopo­litical power center, derived from the weakened sover­eignty of surrounding states as well as the denial of the fact that neigh­bouring states – despite their historical connection to Moscow – may decide their own political course, would stand contrary to the collec­tively deter­mined European security order (the Charter of Paris, the Budapest Memorandum, the NATO-Russia Founding Act) that is being increas­ingly questioned be Russia.

In addition, the discussion was concen­trated on the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and the associ­ation agree­ments with the EU. It was asked if Europe would have placed the countries of the EaP in an “either-or” situation. It was said that such a situation would not have, according to the opinion of the guest speaker, been created by the EU, but rather by Russia, in that it desired to develop the Eurasian Economic Union. This includes a customs union with raised customs barriers, and was said to be incom­patible with the conception of free trade found in preceding offers (bilateral free trade agree­ments between the EaP states and Russia, as well as EU associ­ation agreements).

In connection to this theme, a discussion took place about how the West should react to Russian policy. In the case of Russian inter­ference in Ukraine, it was noted that the EU used a mixed approach – dialogue, sanctions and the strength­ening of its own defence capabil­ities in the framework of NATO. Sanctions were noted as not being ends in and of themselves. The goal would rather be to emphasize the sover­eignty of Ukraine and to hinder a further expansion of Russian interest-driven politics, which would be contrary to inter­na­tional law. Parallel to this, however, the dialogue with Russia would not be allowed to rupture. It was said that no change in this EU policy approach to Russia should be expected in the near future.

It was noted that for Ostpolitik, it is important that the EU remain attractive and successful, that it overcome contem­porary challenges such as Brexit, migration and the financial crisis, and that Russia continue to be part of a joint dialogue.

Struc­tural problems in Ukraine, the future of the sanction policy and the question of Poland’s and the USA’s partic­i­pation in the Normandy format were also covered, but, due to time constraints, could not be fully discussed.

By: Mariam Kheladze