By Wolfgang Schüssel, Valdai Club
There can’t be any doubt that the refugee crisis of 2015/16, Brexit, and the emergence of fundamental differences between the old EU countries and some of the new ones in the East about the concept of integration versus national sovereignty are major challenges for the European Union.
Confronted with all these problems the European Union shows an impressive resilience. It remains an economic super-power: with 550 million inhabitants (about 8% of the world population) it generates nearly 25% of the global GDP. The outcome of recent parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Austria, where pro-European parties remained the dominant political forces, was welcomed all over Europe with relief.
The EU did not get stuck in an unsurmountable crisis, but it has to undergo fundamental reforms to strengthen its clout in global interaction. Its institutions must become more efficient and more in tune with the aspirations of the peoples of Europe: The distribution of powers between the EU and its member states should be reviewed according to the principle of subsidiarity.
A revived community of action between France and Germany will be essential to succeed in this endeavor. The EU needs a deepened internal market, more precise and supervised rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, the development of a secure Banking and Capital Markets Union, the protection of its external borders and last but not least a Common Foreign, Security and Defense policy.
As an export oriented economic superpower the EU needs stable international relations. For obvious reasons Russia is seen as a natural partner: For the EU Russia is a huge export market and a supplier of energy; Russia needs the EU for its socio-economic modernization. Unfortunately this important relationship has been shaken by events in Ukraine which represent major challenges to Europe’s peace and security order based on the CSCE Final Act of 1975 and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe adopted in 1990.
On 14 September 2017 the EU Council prolonged the restrictive measures imposed against Russia after the annexation of Crimea and the events in Eastern Ukraine for a further six months period. An assessment of the situation did not justify a change in the sanctions regime. It is the common position of the 28 EU member states that the economic sanctions against Russia related to the situation in Eastern Ukraine will be lifted as soon as the Minsk Agreements of February 2015 are fully implemented. Many EU countries could envisage a gradual softening of the sanctions linked to progress in the Minsk process. Additional sanctions against Russia as foreseen in a law adopted last summer by US Congress were heavily criticized by most EU member states, including Austria, and the President of the EU Commission.
The idea put forward by President Putin to deploy a UN peacekeeping force in Eastern Ukraine gives hope that progress towards a peaceful restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty in its eastern districts can be achieved. So far, there is still no mandate for an eventual UN peacekeeping operation in Eastern Ukraine. But the fact that this initiative is discussed in several international formats is encouraging.
However, all the involved international players should be aware that stability in Ukraine requires more than the end of military violence; it requires the implementation of a socio-economic recovery program. In early November the EU, the USA, Canada and Japan presented in Vilnius a so-called Marshall Plan for Ukraine. This initiative was further discussed at an EU-Eastern Partnership Summit on 24 November. Russia should join this recovery programme which is supposed to bring peace, stability and prosperity to all of Ukraine, including its war-torn territories in the east.
The EU and Russia have a shared responsibility for a successful outcome of the Minsk peace process and the reconstruction of Ukraine’s shattered economy. If the EU and Russia succeed in this endeavor they might have laid the groundwork for their future strategic partnership.