Nov 18, 2009 | 17:59 GMT

5 mins read

EU, Russia: Moscow's Expectations and the Lisbon Treaty

The EU-Russia summit takes place Nov. 18, less than two weeks before the EU's Lisbon Treaty takes effect. When the treaty comes into force, it likely will prompt the Europeans to complete a new agreement on cooperation with Russia that will cover many areas, from energy security to financial regulation. Moreover, institutional changes brought about by the treaty will bring the balance of power within the bloc closer to Russia's expectations.
The EU-Russia summit takes place in Stockholm on Nov. 18, less than two weeks before the Lisbon Treaty takes effect. The Lisbon Treaty's entry into force on Dec. 1 most likely will spur the European Union to work toward completing a new sweeping agreement on Russian-EU cooperation which likely will include everything from energy security to financial regulation. Most importantly, the Lisbon Treaty will bring the reality of the European Union more in line with Russia's expectations. In particular, the treaty sets up institutional changes that will give larger and more powerful EU member states, like France and Germany, more clout to force smaller states to acquiesce to their demands — a power Russia assumed the stronger EU states always had. Russian relations with the European Union have been rocky ever since EU enlargement reached the former communist countries of Central Europe. The accession of Poland and the former Soviet Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the union in 2004 in particular set the union up for confrontation with Moscow. Poland and the Baltic states are traditionally wary of Russia due to geography and shared history. They felt that if they joined the European Union, they would receive carte blanche for retribution for the many ways they felt Moscow wronged them over past decades and even centuries. Russia, meanwhile, believed that Poland and the Baltic States would be tempered by the more powerful EU member states that are friendly to Russia — particularly France and Germany. In fact, then-Russian President Vladimir Putin explicitly urged Brussels to keep these countries in check. Moscow simply assumed at the time that Poland and the Baltic states were exchanging one master (the Kremlin) for another (Brussels) and were therefore still controllable. This was a gross miscalculation. In particular, the Kremlin overestimated the extent to which the European Union would be able to curb Baltic and Polish foreign policy initiatives within an EU institutional structure that emphasized unanimity on all matters of foreign relations. Furthermore, the European Union specifically relegated management of its foreign affairs initiatives to the EU states most affected, so while Spain handled the EU Latin America policy, it was Lithuania that got to be in charge of a very contentious Kaliningrad policy, with the full force of the European Union behind it. The EU Eastern Partnership program is a key example of this. Poland and Sweden essentially designed the program as a means of containing Russia's influence in its immediate periphery, particularly Belarus and Ukraine. Another example is when Poland and the Baltic states attempted to take over EU foreign policymaking during the Russian intervention in Georgia; the presidents of Poland, Estonia and Latvia traveled to Tbilisi while Russian troops were still operating in the country. Russia has also felt that Brussels has not countered effectively — if at all — what it sees as Baltic governments' growing dislike of the Russian minorities living within their borders. In response to what it perceives as Baltic and Polish belligerence, the Kremlin has taken several measures, including the disruption of oil supplies to the Baltic states, cyberattacks, the the overt instigation of social unrest and riots by Russian minorities in the region and the creation of trade disputes. These acts only further deteriorated relations between Russia and the European Union. The Lisbon Treaty, however, introduces a number of tools with which the powerful EU member states — if they can reach a consensus — will be able to move Europe in the direction they want. Chief among these is a new decision-making procedure that emphasizes population over a Byzantine voting distribution that used to favor smaller member states. The Lisbon Treaty also moves energy issues — a key foreign policy matter when it comes to Russia — away from unanimity voting, preventing the Baltics or Poland from using their vetoes on this key issue (though this should be caveated with an understanding that the European Union does not have much of a common energy policy). Furthermore, the new EU foreign minister will have a diplomatic corps separate from the EU Commission and allegedly will be able to act more independently during crises, such as the Russo-Georgian war. Many of the specifics of the Lisbon Treaty are yet to be hashed out through actual practice, but the perception in Russia and Europe is that the European Union will be a more coherent entity, which to Moscow means that Poland and the Baltic states will no longer have free reign on foreign policy matters in regions of interest to Moscow. It should be noted that foreign policy in general will remain within the realm of unanimous decision making, unless the 27 EU heads of government decide to move policy issues from unanimity into the realm of qualified majority voting as Lisbon allows. Therefore, the treaty does not eviscerate Poland and the Baltic states' ability to influence Brussels' policymaking. However, the Lisbon Treaty does create expectations that the European Union will act more coherently on the world stage. The Europeans — particularly Berlin and Paris — are practically guaranteeing that it will. This coherence will mean that in the future, the European Union will not be able to excuse anti-Russian policies by blaming Poland or the Baltic states. Moscow will hold the Europeans to these higher expectations.

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