Russia - EU: No Return to the Good Old Days, but New Ones May Come
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

In the future, Russia and the European Union should rely primarily on mutual interests and so-called selective cooperation. This is much more useful than trying to return to the good old days, said Markus Ederer, the European Union’s ambassador to Russia, during an expert discussion hosted by the Valdai Discussion Club on April 16.

Over the next five years, serious changes will take place both inside the European Union and within Russia. The EU is doing some “soul-searching,” because the integration model that led to its great successes in the second half of the 20th century has outlived itself and requires adaptation to new realities. Russia should also choose a vector for further development. Therefore, today, when we speak about relations between Russia and the EU, we should not focus on the model that existed in the 1990s and 2000s, said Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, who moderated the discussion.

Ambassador Markus Ederer took stock of the feasibility of improved relations between Brussels and Moscow. “The corresponding window of opportunity will open by the end of the year, when a series of elections will reshape the European Commission’s composition and provide new leadership. It is necessary for the parties to calm down and make the necessary policy changes, based on mutual interests,” the ambassador said.

Since 2014, relations between Russia and the EU have been far from optimal, but, according to Ederer, cooperation with Moscow is not only a political directive. “For example, we successfully cooperate in the field of civil society; Russians constitute the largest group of Schengen visa recipients. Our cooperation has a very strong foundation and communication channels are open, including with respect to combating terrorism,” Ederer recalled.

The European Union today, according to the ambassador, is actively exploring the “archipelago” of Russian-European relations. The state in which they exist now should not be preserved forever. “We are substantial partners, neighbours who need to work on establishing reasonable, pragmatic relations,” the speaker stressed, adding that it’s time to dispel illusions of mutual trust and move on from memories of a bright past. According to Ederer, Moscow is inclined to exaggerate the level of “agreement” that was allegedly reached between the two sides prior to 2014, and the possibility of returning to this previous level of accordance without serious efforts. In the future, the parties should rely primarily on their converging interests and selective cooperation. This is much more useful than trying to return to the good old days, Ederer said.

Alexey Gromyko, Director of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences, in his turn said, that, of course, the good old days will not return, but favourable ones may be yet to come. Russia and the EU have deep disagreements on a number of issues. In addition, their relationship is affected by the influence of third parties – namely, the US and China. However, there are a number of strategic areas where they can cooperate (for example, the Iran nuclear deal, the Nord Stream 2 project, and the Korean Peninsula settlement).

Developing the topic, Marcus Ederer drew attention to the need to expand and strengthen business ties between Russia and the EU, since Europe remains the main source of direct investment in the Russian economy. Moreover, in his opinion, one should not neglect the opportunities that are opening up in the East. Specifically, projects could be implemented within the framework of China’s Belt and Road initiative, and in this connection, talks could proceed about building a “united Europe” from Lisbon to Shanghai. “This field of cooperation has not yet become infected with prejudices, and therefore cooperation between the EU and the EAEU also has good prospects,” the ambassador concluded.