"Sovereign Democracy" and Russia's Relations with the European Union

By Averre, Derek | Demokratizatsiya, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

"Sovereign Democracy" and Russia's Relations with the European Union


Averre, Derek, Demokratizatsiya


Abstract: This article examines European Union-Russia relations against broader trends in Russian foreign and security policy. It assesses the prospects for a new agreement to replace the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, analyzes the recently appeared Russian concept of "sovereign democracy," and considers the challenges Moscow's more assertive foreign policy presents to Europe.

Keywords: democracy, European Union, foreign policy, Russia, security, sovereignty

Introduction

How are relations between the European Union and Russia, two entities whose interaction--especially in term of trade, energy markets, and security--is crucial to the future of the continent, conceptualized? On the one hand, positive developments appear to hold out the prospect of Russia's inclusion in a wider European political community. The establishment of high-level institutional arrangements--biannual summits, the Permanent Partnership Council Ministerial, and Ministerial EU Troika-Russia meetings--and the development of an increasingly dense network of contacts between officials and experts across wide areas of sectoral cooperation give Moscow a privileged and perhaps unique position among Brussels's many external partners. Russia's leaders frequently stress the importance of the country's "European choice." On the other hand there are growing strains in the relationship. The lack of a coherent European policy for engagement with Russia or a common strategic vision, particularly regarding their shared neighborhood; a relatively narrow agenda for security cooperation; disputes over trade and energy issues; Moscow's insistence on a partnership between equals and the reluctance of Russian elites to accept the imposition of European norms and models; the "values gap" and concerns among Europe's policymakers about Russia's political, social, and economic development--all of these factors have combined to silence talk of Russia's "systematic integration" into Europe, or of "Europeanizing" Russia, and create a climate of limited pragmatic cooperation. One authoritative Russian commentator, not alone in his assessment, recently characterized the relationship in terms of "economic rapprochement accompanied by complete geopolitical stagnation ... relations [with Europe] are respectable and calm but are not going anywhere in particular." (1)

This article identifies the key assumptions underpinning Russia's dealings with the EU and examines them against broader trends in Russian foreign and security policy, which has recently undergone a notable--and perhaps decisive--shift. It falls into three parts. First, a brief critical analysis of the existing basis for EU-Russia relations as contained in the road maps for the four Common Spaces, (2) adopted at the May 2005 summit, and proposals for a new agreement to replace the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), whose initial term is due to expire at the end of November 2007, are presented and assessed. Second, we investigate the views of Russia's governing elite on the country's role in the international system and examine the ideas underpinning the concept of "sovereign democracy," promoted by some elites as a kind of new national ideology. Finally, the challenges presented to Europe by Moscow's more assertive foreign policy, and particularly the implications for their shared neighborhood, are considered. Russia's foreign policymakers perceive an external security environment where Russian interests and values must be pursued competitively and that the underlying tension--unlikely to be resolved soon--between Moscow's preoccupations with sovereignty and national security on the one hand and, on the other, closer political, economic, and social engagement with Europe will continue to cause problems in the relationship.

Beyond the PCA: What Kind of Future Agreement?

The Common Spaces format signalled the failure of Brussels's earlier attempts to devise a suitable framework for relations with Russia through the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP)--essentially an attempt to project the integrationist logic of the European project into a wider "external" European security space by promoting convergence with EU norms and models.

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