Guest Lecture: Russia’s Perception of the EU and Its Member States
On 4 March 2010 SPES fellow Dr. Stanislav Secrieru gave a guest lecture to students of the Master programme in “Advanced European and International Studies” organized by the Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE). The lecture’s title corresponded to Secrieru’s research in the SPES programme, namely “Russia’s Perception of the EU and Its Member States.”
Secrieru started by explaining why perceptions matter in general and in the EU-Russia relations in particular. As he emphasized, perceptions are important as they shape actors’ policy actions. The empirical interest in perceptions is even more relevant in the case of Russia, as it matches the causal weight Russia attaches to this factor in international affairs.
Firstly, Secrieru elaborated on the overall viewpoint of Russia on Europe. Moscow sees the enlarged EU as weakened in terms of cohesion, which is exhibited by the increased appetite for protectionist measures in the times of the economic crisis, as well as by the difficulties in the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. In Moscow’s view, institutional blockages and the lack of a clear perspective on the way forward make the EU unable to set strategic goals. As Secrieru put it, there are also areas in which the EU is a competitive foreign policy actor in the Russian view. These include mediation of conflicts, environmental protection and the attractiveness of the political and economic models as means to influence the near abroad. In dealing with the EU, Russia rejects the paradigm of ‘asymmetric inclusion’ and demands equality, jointly agreed rules and cease of the EU’s demandeur approach. Secrieru finally added that Russia prefers the EU to be feeble, however strong enough to create some kind of counter balance to the US.
The second part of the lecture concerned specific policy domains, i.e. energy as well as the Eastern Partnership. Secrieru stated that Russia uses energy as a tool in its relations with the EU in order to correct economic asymmetry and foster more equal relationship with the EU. The EU’s strategy of securing gas deliveries, including the construction of the trans-Caspian and the Nabucco pipelines, is seen by Russia as a challenge to its position in the post-Soviet space and an attempt to switch the regional balance in energy relations to the EU’s favour. Moreover, the EU’s Third Energy Package is perceived as limiting Russian investments in Europe and dictating how to regulate operation of energy companies on the domestic market. Secrieru added that Russia is trying to switch from being a norm-taker to norm-maker, as can be seen on the example of the rejection of the Energy Charter Treaty in 2009 and the proposal of a new legally binding international agreement in the energy field. Russia also seeks to strengthen the energy producers’ position by introducing a principle of ‘security demand’ which would limit the consumer options to choose or change the supplier. Other Russian objectives in this regard include having a say in EU diversification projects, facilitating the implementation of its own infrastructure projects, and providing access to the much needed know-how in the energy field.
The European Neighbourhood Policy is perceived by Russia as inconsistent, weak and lacking concrete ideas. However, Secrieru pointed to the fact that the attitude of Russia has changed considerably since the introduction of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) in 2009. The EaP is seen as an initiative, which was cooked in the laboratories of those EU member states that are hostile to Russia as a reaction to the 2008 short war in the South Caucasus. Moscow regards EaP as an attempt to softly eliminate Russian influence from the post-Soviet space.
The last part of Secrieru’s lecture was devoted to Russia’s bilateral relations. He pointed out a Russian categorization of EU member states into three clusters. To the first one, the ‘psychologically compatible’ partners, belong Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus. Of course the relationships are not free of sporadic tensions and mild suspicion, however, strong political relations and military cooperation are maintained and dialogue with civil society is institutionalized. The second group, the ‘utilitarians’, comprises of Bulgaria, Netherlands, Finland, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Slovenia (enthusiastic utilitarians) as well as Ireland, Malta, Belgium, Portugal (apathetic utilitarians). In the case of the latter, Russia would like to engage in the economic field, but Moscow’s efforts are not always reciprocated. Relations with the former are based mainly on Russian oil and gas deliveries as well as the struggle for greater access to the Russian market. The third category, ‘Phantoms of the Past Illness’ includes the UK, the Baltic republics, Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Denmark. Political dialogue with these states at the high level is often unstable and purposefully limited. Despite the frosty political atmosphere, investments of these countries in Russia have flourished. Moscow, however, regards these countries as extremely suspicious about Russian investments or projects in Europe as well as Russian foreign and security policies.
Secrieru concluded his lecture by stating that Moscow is looking down on Europe. According to him, this outlook is partially a product of self-confidence powered by a decade of sustained economic growth, which has not been significantly affected by the recent economic recession.
Von: Malgorzata Wojcik