Academic journal article Review of European Studies

The European Union and the Insiders/Outsiders of Europe: Russia and the Post-Soviet Space

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

The European Union and the Insiders/Outsiders of Europe: Russia and the Post-Soviet Space

Article excerpt


The European Union is being perceived in Eastern Europe as an important actor, but with very different connotations. Some neighbours have membership ambitions and see the EU as a model (cf. the enlargement/democracy narrative). For others, relations with the EU are an instrument to balance regional relations (cf. the geopolitical narrative). Finally, some perceive the EU as striving to expand its influence beyond its borders (cf. the value empire narrative). The chapter investigates the discourses on the EU in the eastern neighbourhood and Russia. It starts from the assumption that perceptions in the region have a strong impact on the EU's ability to pursue its policy goals. At the same time, EU policy influences debates in its partner countries. By examining this interrelationship this paper aims to understand the extent to which the EU is able to play the role of an important regional actor in the post-Soviet space.

Keywords: Russia, European Union, acquis communautaire, European neighbourhood policy, identities, constructivism, foreign policy, enlargement fatigue, geopolitical narrative

1. Introduction

In its 2003 Security Strategy the EU ascribed to itself the task 'to promote a ring of well-governed countries to the East of the European Union [and on the borders of the Mediterranean] with whom we can enjoy close and cooperative relations' (EU Council 2003, p. 8). The publication of the European Security Strategy (ESS) was a landmark moment in the development of EU foreign and security policy. For the first time ever Member States had agreed on a common document on the EU's role and policy in a changing international environment. As the quotation above demonstrates, the ESS defines the EU as a normative power in relations with its neighbourhood by explicitly spelling out the aim to shape polities in neighbouring states and assist them on the road to good governance.

Since its 'big bang' enlargement in 2004 the EU has clearly evolved into a key actor in its Eastern neighbourhood (Note 1). It is the biggest provider of humanitarian aid and technical assistance and the most important trade partner for many of the countries in the region. Brussels and the countries in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus (including Russia but with the exception of Belarus) have developed a dense network of political and legal relations, which partly implies the adoption of the acquis communautaire by the EU's partners in the East.

However, the EU's relations with the countries in the region do not evolve in a linear continuum. On the contrary, they are marked by significant ups and downs. The eastern enlargement in 2004, the development of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the colour revolutions all contributed to a rapid rapprochement with the countries of the Eastern Neighbourhood. This rapprochement, however, was accompanied by a rapid deterioration in relations with Russia. Today it is impossible to argue that any country in the region is better governed than seven years ago - some countries have even become considerably more authoritarian and corruption remains an insurmountable obstacle to more sustainable development. Tensions in the region persist and the conflicts in Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan remain unresolved. An elite poll conducted in summer 2010 by the Centre for European Policy Studies (2010) revealed that almost two thirds of the respondents (from both the EU and partner countries) assessed the ENP as having 'little or no impact'.

This leaves the observer with the puzzling question of what happened to the EU's ambitious claim to create a ring of well-governed states along its new borders. This essay intends to respond to this question in three steps. First, it will give a brief overview of the EU's policies and policy instruments in the region. Secondly, it will look into the perceptions and views of the EU and its policies in the region. The insights offered in this section do not rely on a systematic discourse analysis but on numerous interviews and conversations with experts, policy makers and civil society representatives in Russia and the countries of the Eastern Neighbourhood of the Union. …

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