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EU: Brussels Faulted for Lacking Vision in Former Soviet Union

  • Ahto Lobjakas

A Western legal expert says the EU has not been very successful in its relations with countries of the former Soviet Union, particularly Russia and Belarus. He faults a series of cooperation agreements signed with the countries in the 1990s, saying these don't provide incentives necessary for the EU to develop a coherent policy.

The Hague, 26 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union is active not only in promoting democratic values and market reforms to the candidate states, but also to countries further to the east such as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

During the past decade, the EU has signed separate "partnership and cooperation agreements" with each of the three in an effort to promote these core values.

But a British legal expert attending a conference in the Dutch city of The Hague says this effort has not been very successful.

Christophe Hilliol, director of the Centre for Legal Studies at Cambridge University, says the reason is that the EU's strategy is not applied uniformly from country to country.

He says this is most obvious in the case of Russia:

"If you take Russia, basically, economic interests and [the interests of certain states] have prevailed over [the] political credibility of the mechanism, so to speak. There is a mechanism, which means that [for instance in the case of the] Chechen crisis, you could have imagined that certain measures would have been taken by the EU side to be a bit more credible in what they are trying to [do to] export certain political principles.

In the case of Russia, the central aims of the basic cooperation agreement are the consolidation of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the integration of Russia into a common European economic space, and the ensuring of stability in Europe and beyond.

But an example of the EU's problem in enforcing these aims, came in the union's response to Russia's brutal military operation in Chechnya, which began last year.

Shortly after the operation started, EU leaders decided to suspend parts of a key 200 million euro aid program (eds: the Tacis program) to Russia. The restrictions were lifted just six months later without winning any serious change in Russia's behavior in Chechnya.

One of the problems is that the partnership and cooperation agreements don't include any provision for eventual membership in the EU. Hilliol says that removes an important incentive for the countries to initiate programs to adopt core values.

It also leaves the EU without an incentive to set up a coherent strategy with respect to the countries.

Hilliol contrasts the treatment of Russia with the much harsher treatment meted out by the EU to Belarus.

The EU signed a partnership and cooperation agreement with Belarus in 1994, but it never came into force after the EU condemned President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime in 1996.

Since then, the EU has suspended all cooperation with Belarus. Aid money from the EU has dried to a trickle.

Hilliol notes that the severity with which the EU has treated Belarus puts a question mark over the whole approach:

"In the case of Belarus, the mechanism, the 'stick policy' has been applied rather strictly, in the sense that ... as soon as there was a constitutional crisis in Belarus, the procedure to come to a general agreement with Belarus was suspended, and since then the only more positive picture about has been that assistance [has still been] given to NGOs [non-governmental organizations] so that you still have some contacts with [the] people."

The situation is more positive in Ukraine. That country wants to join the EU and is strategically important enough to be taken seriously.

The EU and Ukraine signed a partnership and cooperation agreement in 1994, and a common strategy agreed between the EU and Ukraine last year acknowledges Ukraine's European aspirations.

The EU objectives are here clearer than in other countries. Apart from a general commitment to democracy and free trade, the EU-Ukraine common strategy lists a number of important common challenges, including environmental concerns and energy and nuclear safety.