No More Missed Opportunities

Posted on 05. December 2014

by Veronika Sobolova

veronika-sobolova-modifieedReflections on the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

During the first official visit of Ms. Mogherini to Germany, Foreign Minister Steinmeier gave her a very clear sign of support at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum when he stated: “Dear Frederica, we will be team players”. She will need his support. The number of foreign policy challenges has been growing and some participants at the Forum had a pessimistic view about the years ahead.

If the EU Member States want to oppose Putin in a strong and effective way, they must act united. Ms. Mogherini believes as well that we are stronger if we are united. This may sound very simple and obvious, like something one might hear in an introductory lecture of European integration, but it is rather hard to achieve in practice. For example, the sanctions against Russia that were agreed upon by all Member States at a European Council Meeting in Brussels were afterwards heavily criticised by high representatives of particular Member States (among these were Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic); this is a bad example of European ‘unity’. And that is exactly in line with the intentions of Russian foreign policy, which aims to create disunity among Europeans citizens and spread fear across the European continent, as many participants at the Forum stated.

But why does Russia see the EU’s foreign policy towards its Eastern Partners as a threat? Since the start of the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy, EU-Russia relations have been deteriorating. A majority of countries included in the Eastern Partnership face Russian bullying at their borders. Even the panellists at the Forum had not expected the EU-Russia relation to disintegrate so quickly and on such a big scale. They stated that the EU did not adequately assess the situation and underestimated Russia’s reaction to the negotiations on the Association Agreements with countries it still considered to be within its ‘zone of influence’. However, it was Russia that decided to see the EU not as a partner, but as a competitor, said Cristiane Hoffmann, the moderator of the panel on Eastern Europe.

The ambiguous commentaries on the use of sanctions at the Forum confirmed that the EU needs a strategy for Russia that goes far beyond sanctions. The different developments in the Eastern Partnership countries since the Vilnius Summit in 2013 affirmed the need for a more differentiated approach instead of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy. Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine have signed the Associations Agreements, including the DCFTAs, but Belarus and Azerbaijan do not show a lot of interest in deeper integration, while Armenia has already signed a treaty to enter the Eurasian Economic Union in October 2014. These different-speed integration attempts of Eastern Partners with the EU suggest that the EU should offer more support to those countries that are interested in further integration.

On the other hand, it was Armenian President Sargsyan who, directly after the rejection of signing the already negotiated Association Agreement with the EU at the Vilnius Summit in 2013, stated that the EU is widely seen as a template for modernisation and democracy in the Eastern European region. And this is a crucial part of the EU´s leverage in its relations with the countries of the Eastern Partnership and even Russia, as Andrey Kortunov, Director of the Russian International Affairs Council, reminded us at the Forum. If the Eastern European countries want to modernise their economies, the EU is the only source of modern technologies available to them. Norbert Röttgen, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the German Bundestag, made it clear that the EU won´t be able to use military power in the conflict with Russia, but it could make better use of its transformative power in terms of modernisation and prosperity. After all, this was one of the biggest incentives for people at Maidan to demonstrate while holding European flags.

At the Forum, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier expressed his view that the biggest challenges in foreign policy are the missed opportunities. Mogherini and Steinmeier do not have any other choice than to cooperate with each other; if they do not, an opportunity will be missed, especially in the EU´s own Eastern neighbourhood.