#5 - JRL 2009-210 - JRL Home
Moscow Times
November 17, 2009
Moscow Faces a More Powerful EU
By Nikolaus von Twickel

Moscow will find it harder to exploit divisions within the European Union after the Lisbon Treaty makes the 27-member bloc’s foreign policy more efficient from Dec. 1, diplomats and analysts said Monday.

President Dmitry Medvedev will meet senior EU officials under the bloc’s old makeup for the last time at a EU-Russia summit in Stockholm on Wednesday. On Thursday, EU leaders will gather in Brussels to appoint a new permanent president of the European Council and a foreign policy chief with enhanced powers.

But it is unclear whether Moscow will abandon its traditional preoccupation with the perceived Western military threat of NATO in favor of new worries over the EU’s growing dominance.

European diplomats said the EU reforms would help to improve ties by making the organization more efficient and capable in its role as a global economic player.

“We will become a more interesting and reliable partner,” said Fernando Valenzuela, the head of the EU’s delegation to Russia.

Valenzuela told The Moscow Times that while the Stockholm summit was a routine event, its participants would discuss the looming changes and take stock of mutual relations.

“This is a good opportunity to exchange views over the Lisbon Treaty,” he said.

Moscow and Brussels have been sparring over a range of subjects, including energy, trade and human rights, and negotiations over a new key treaty between both sides have stalled because of Russia’s reservations about joining the World Trade Organization.

But in a sign of progress, EU Energy Commissar Andris Piebalgs signed an agreement Monday for an early warning mechanism to prevent another crisis like last winter, when Moscow cut off gas supplies to Ukraine.

The Kremlin has acknowledged that the Lisbon Treaty will make negotiations with Brussels tougher.

“Discussions will become more complicated because the European Union will speak with one voice,” Medvedev’s foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said Friday.

But Prikhodko added that this amounted to a positive change because it also made the EU more predictable.

A senior European diplomat said Prikhodko’s seemingly paradox statement made complete sense because Moscow has in the past used a strategy of focusing on EU member states when it disagreed with EU’s executive body.

“Now it will be tougher in areas of disagreement, and it will be easier when both sides agree,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

It is not necessarily bad news for Moscow that a wrench has been thrown into its traditional divide-and-rule tactics, said Frazer Cameron, the head of the EU-Russia Center, a Brussels-based think tank.

“It will be more unpleasant, but ultimately it is better to have a stronger counterpart,” he said by telephone from Brussels.

Regardless of the Lisbon Treaty, Cameron added, EU members’ notorious disunity is also on the decline as countries realize that a united bloc is more forceful. “That’s the bottom line for everyone: You have much more influence by acting in concert than proceeding on your own,” he said.

Another diplomat suggested that it was time for the Kremlin to abandon its preoccupation with NATO and the military alliance’s enlargement eastward.

“Lisbon might have bigger consequences because NATO is largely a dormant organization as long as nothing happens ­ and thus poses no real threat to Russia,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

In contrast, he said, the EU is always acting in all policy fields.

That argument received a boost from Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who is arguing for the creation of a European army because the Lisbon Treaty calls for the further harmonization of member states’ foreign and defense policies.

Frattini told London’s Sunday Times that it was a “necessary objective” for a common foreign policy to have a European army. He said some countries could start this force alone, with others joining later like they did with the euro, the single European currency.

But analysts said the EU would not become a major military organization any time soon and Moscow was unlikely to change its foreign policy strategy as a result.

“This is a matter at a very preliminary level of discussion with quite different attitudes among our member states,” said Valenzuela, the EU delegation chief.

Vladislav Belov, an analyst at the Academy of Sciences’ European Center, said Russian leaders would continue to see NATO as a security risk as long as the EU army remained a distant idea.

“Since the old thinking will remain, President Dmitry Medvedev will continue to insist on a new security architecture for Europe,” he said.

Medvedev has made his push for a new security pact with Europe a major plank of his presidency.

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter