November 26, 2010

German-Russian "Change through Rapprochement or just Free Trade"

Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin
(Archiv: EU-Russia Summit 17 Mai 2007)
Foto: Credit © European Union, 2010 
On 23 November 2010, Russia and the European Union agreed upon the modalities of the Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Joint Statement remarked that the negotiators of the Russian Federation and of the European Commission have concluded the bilateral talks on key outstanding elements in the accession of the Russian Federation to the WTO. The reached understanding complements the results of the bilateral negotiations concluded in 2004 with regard to important aspects of Russia’s export duty regime and railway fees.

"After all these talks, we can say now we have practically resolved all the issues," Russian deputy premier Igor Shuvalov said after talks with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the commissioners for trade and foreign relations, EUobserver reported.

In the overall context of appropriate steps of rapprochement with Russia (NATO and EU), Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, visited Germany and its counterpart, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Whenever there has been strife between Germany and the rest of the EU Member states on the one hand (keyword: rescue plan and heavily indebted countries) and Russian high-ranking official has met with its German counterpart on the other, this has had a major impact on European politics.

Germany's "Wandel durch Annäherung" (change through rapprochement)

After the Deauville meeting on 18-19 October 2010 Germany, France and Russia have already prepared the way for deeper EU-Russia cooperation. Chancellor Merkel underscored at the end of the meeting: "We need a modern agreement between Europe and Russia for today’s world." Federal Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, underlined the German policy towards Russia and emphasized that Russia is an important partner for the EU. 
"With all our EU partner countries in Eastern Europe, we share a common goal. We want to ensure that the borders of Europe, which have shifted eastwards with EU enlargement, do not become dividing lines. This is a key task of European policy. (...) We are interested in establishing a pan-European area of freedom, security, justice and prosperity, a ring of friendly neighbours. That is the aim of the Eastern Partnership, initiated in 2008 by Poland and Sweden. (...) The creation of a pan-European free trade area could also trigger a momentum that would benefit everyone. Why not create a common economic space between the EU, the countries of the Eastern Partnership and Russia?" (Speech by Guido Westerwelle, 29 October 2010)
"Relations between Germany and Russia have today reached a level that would hardly have been considered possible twenty years ago. Economic integration, political cooperation, cultural exchange, civil society contacts – in all areas our relations today stand on a broad and solid foundation. I attach great importance to enhancing the ties between Russia and Germany, between Russia and the European Union, and indeed the West as a whole, ever further. Judged by its history, its geography and its culture, Russia is without a doubt part of the European family." (Speech by Guido Westerwelle, 1 November 2010)
Germany is especially well-positioned to lead such efforts and to put them on the political agenda of the European Union. Its close economic ties to Russia, its historic foreign policy maxim of "Wandel durch Annäherung" (change through rapprochement) and its traditional connection to Eastern Europe, put Germany in a better position on European and where possible international stage.

Russia's "Wandel durch Freihandel" (change through free trade) 

The day before Putins' visit to Germany, the Russian Prime Minister published in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung its vision of Pan-European model for a new economic order. Putins proposed economic program "From Lisbon to Wladiwostok" contains five core issues:
  1. Establishment of an Economic Community from Lisbon to Wladiwostok
  2. A common industry policy based on the technology and resource potentials of Russia and the EU
  3. Development of equal and balanced relations between suppliers, consumers, and transit countries for energy resources
  4. Closer partnership of European and Russian science and education
  5. Visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union
The last priority is high on the Russian foreign policy agenda. "We deem that visa abolition must become not the end, but the start of the Russian-EU integration process. Actually youth, including pupils and students, will benefit from the freedom of travel," Putin stated, quoted by RiaNovosti.

Vladimir Putin is the second "Pan-European Architect" after Russian President Dmitri Medvedev proposed an European Security Strategy from Vancouver to Wladiwostok. However, both strategies are aiming at including Russia into an European system, it rather security or economy.

Vladimir Putin's visit is merely a metter of perfect timing. The German economy is recovering from the world wide economic and financial crisis more faster than other countries in the European Union: economy is growing and unemployment is on continuous decrease. Angela Merkel settet even the target of full employment.

Quite appart from the fact that Germany is welcoming the proposed structure, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear the dividing lines between request and reality. "Of course we are supporting the idea of a free trade area between the European Union and Russia", stated Angela Merkel at the Führungstreffen Wirtschaft 2010 on 25 November 2010 in Berlin, quoted by Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Chancellor continued: "However, I have to pour some cold water on the matter because of the fact that Russia is not moving in that direction." Angela Merkel mentioned the customs union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, and the recurring discussions in Russia about elevation of import duties, Süddeutsche Zeitung continued.

However, trade balance, budget deficit, and rising national debt in some EU countries and even in Germany  are negative factors outweighing the positive trends in terms of sustainable economic performance. It also became apparent that reopening debate on aspects of the rescue system for the common curency (the case of Ireland) leads only to the reiteration of conflicting positions in Germany between the governing parties, the opposition and the civil society, and not to the emergence of new consensus.

Yet in the future, Germany does not shy away from tighter cooperation with Russia because of pragmatic economy politics. In a multipolar world, the European Union and the Member states will be required to provide full responsibility for further development of EU-Russia relations. However, change could be reached only through  rapprochement as a preliminary stage to free trade area. Free trade and economy are important; nevertheless common norms and values are more important.

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EU21Global hat gesagt…

"Undeterred by the deepening crisis over the euro, Germany stuck to its guns in pushing to make private investors pick up part of the bill in any future bailout — and appeared to win support from France." (Link:

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