BRICS and the EU: A Conversation From the Position of Strength, a Partnership Without Breakthroughs and a Farewell to Uniqueness
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On April 8, the Valdai Club presented its new report titled “The Future Talks to the Past: BRICS Countries’ Strategies Towards the European Union”. The authors of the report examined the relations between each of the BRICS countries and the European Union, as well as individual European states, and analysed their similarities and differences.

The moderator of the event, Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, said that the very existence of the BRICS group is an interesting phenomenon of modern international life, which testifies to the development of multi-polarity and an increase in the number of major powers pursuing an independent policy, not adhering to big associations. At the same time, they are able to coordinate this policy with each other. In his opinion, BRICS can be considered a prototype of what international cooperation should look like in the future. Unlike the usual international associations striving for homogeneity and unified positions, BRICS is by definition based on the principle of equality. Among the “five” there can be no single leader, as in the structures of the collective West, its members are too large and independent to impose their points of view on each other. So, it is interesting to see how each of its participants builds relations with Europe, with which all the BRICS countries have some degree of common history, and whether they have a certain common approach.

Vasily Kashin, Senior Research Fellow at the Central Research and Development Institute of the Higher School of Economics, the author of the report chapter on China, stressed that China’s reassessment of its place in relation to Europe has been going on for a long time. At the same time, according to him, although politically Europe as a participant in international relations is not highly valued, the importance of Europe is constantly growing in the eyes of Chinese policymakers. In fact, Europe, which traditionally plays a huge role in China’s foreign economic relations and has long been a key source of innovation and technology for the PRC, has become the subject of an on-going struggle, one of the main theatres of the American-Chinese rivalry; the outcome is likely to directly depend on the success of China’s policy on Europe. At the same time, Beijing, realising the importance of the EU, sees the weakness of Europe as a major player, in connection with which it uses harsh rhetoric and demonstrates its readiness to speak with the Europeans from a position of strength. According to the expert, this excessive arrogance in some cases begins to harm Chinese officials and diplomats.

Nivedita Kapoor, Associate Research Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation’s Strategic Studies Programme and co-author of the chapter on India, pointed to the changing relationship between India and Europe and the expansion of contacts between them. At the same time, she highlighted two topics — relations with the European Union as a whole and relations with individual countries, adding that relations with individual countries, including many of India’s traditional partners, are developing much better. Regarding relations with the EU, there is a dialogue, but strategic cooperation is not being implemented. The expected breakthrough never materialised, although the parties consider each other strategic partners. India pins special hopes on cooperation in the field of climate and green technologies.

Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director of CCEMI at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, who wrote the chapter on Russian interaction with the EU, emphasised the historically special nature of this interaction. He believes that Russia has gone from a unique relationship associated with attempts to create a kind of commonality with the European Union — the so-called Greater Europe — to the same approach as the rest of the BRICS countries, that is, to the perception of Europe as one of the important partners, but no more. Russia, unlike other centres of world power, was for some time viewed by the EU as an object for Europeanisation and inclusion in the European periphery. In the mid-2000s Russia rejected this model, but it did not abandon the idea of exclusive relations with Europe, proposing instead the integration of the EU and Russian-centric integration projects — an “integration of integrations” and the creation of “common spaces”. However, this model also failed, and Russian-European relations are at an impasse. Suslov believes that the way out of this impasse is the rejection of the idea of unique relations and the transition to normal interaction as neighbours.