Pan-European EEC idea endorsed by Russia’s Putin! / BlogActiv series October 2010


Vladimir Putin launched a ‘Plädoyer für eine Witschaftsgemeinschaft”, in Germany on 25 November. This sounds similar to my June post here and to the article I published on 11 Novembre in Le Monde and medias from six other countries: “Turkey, Ukraine, Russia: toward a new EEC?” Here are quick reactions to Russia’s initiative.

Who should think ahead for panEurope?

The EEC’s founding fathers were leaders, not ‘experts’ (*).  We need bolder thinkers again, now with a pan-European outlook. Knowing historic constraints, but projecting Europe far ahead. Beyond think tanks and academia, they might be leading (ex)politicians, used to daring ideas. Or indeed media people, independent, in tune with opinion trends rather than old State lines.

Did I influence Russia’s new proposal? Not directly (nor am I under Kremlin control: this EuRoman blog is not a spy thriller). The paper by INSOR in Moscow about a Vision 2025 is a stronger inspiration (see my list of pan-European visions). Indirectly, yes, I am one source, in a cloud of policy positions, based on my June post about a pan European EEC (many reacted, please recall: you saw it here first!). And given talks with a number of diplomats and experts since two years: no discussion is a one-way street.

So, what did I do with my ‘non expert’ pieces? Well, I just ‘put 2 and 2 together’. Or rather bring ‘3 and 27 together’, in a novel way. Which is to bundle in one vision the possible evolution of all three bilateral relations with the EU: Turkey out of the impasse, Ukraine beyond the association, and Russia toward euro-realism.

What are the differences between Putin’s article and mine?

Obviously, I am not a G-20 leader, so should one compare at all?  Before writing a longer article soon, let me point to only three aspects:
– my pieces make a clearer reference to the EEC, as opposed to an undefined economic community. Putin talks of a continental market, but does not commit to the acquis communautaire. Although this is envisaged by the think tank INSOR, behind  Medvedev.
– I suggest ‘Europe 10’ soft governance to trigger the process. Putin, logically, does not risk upsetting smaller countries at this stage, and notably the former Soviet zone of influence.
– last but not least, Putin talks of ‘Lisbon to Vladisvostock’, but does not spell out what happens with other non-EU countries…  Whereas my ‘paneuropean EEC’ idea is a way to go first for Turkey and Ukraine, then Russia. Putin alludes only indirectly to Ukraine (as ‘Transit country drawing unilateral advantages from its monopoly’!). He does not address Turkey at all.

Is Putin’s proposal serious or tactical? Probably both.

Talks abound about Ukraine joining the Russia-led trade block with Belarus and Kazakhstan. While there are compatibility issues, the geopolitical solution is clear to me, at least long term: unite both blocks. This Eastern path was not mentioned in Putin’s German article. Of course, from Ukraine’s viewpoint, there is a tactical reason for exploring both Eastern and Western paths. Turkey is also raising the stakes and talking about its Middle Eastern vocation…

The substance of Russia’s proposal also entails tactical pre-negotiation points. For example regarding visa-free travel, criticism of the EU’s third energy package and access to energy assets (read: Gazprom Western extension).

Some commentators pointed to Frau Merkel’s immediate comments, raising short term customs issues. But she does support a Russia-EU free trade area. I expect Germany to support deeper talks, repositioning them in the context of Ukraine’s integration and tackling the Turkey question.

What next? Expect major talks, both discreet and public

Putin wishes some principles of the economic community to be ‘anchored’ in the EU-Russia agreement under negotiation. This would be a bit like the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas: ‘decided’ in theory, with dates and embryonic institutions, but not implemented in practice. Having a process is key, but not enough. A wider European Economic Community will require several years of discussions to be fleshed out and gain popular support. This will involve many private discussions, conferences, articles and books. Perhaps even fiction: Putin mentions a ‘dream’.

Russia’s security treaty idea in June 2008 was heavily criticised, but did lead to the recent Deauville summit and a major point on NATO’s agenda in Lisbon. This new offer on economic integration is worth discussing seriously, even more so.

Putin rightly asks for a concept covering the next 20 to 50 years, but is still in bilateral (EU-Russia) mode. In a way, this is respectful: it is for leaders of Turkey, Ukraine and the EU to complement with their own vision for our continent. As he concludes: ‘Now is the time to simply roll up our sleeves and get to work’.

Christophe Leclercq