Officials from the European Union are gathering over the next two days with their Russian counterparts in Khanty-Mansiysk, Siberia, holding a series of “framework discussions” to prepare for the beginning of negotiations on a partnership agreement on July 4th. Representatives were planning to run the gamut of issues, discussing everything from political cooperation and economic integration to more difficult issues, such as energy security and the Georgia issue. However the goal of having a new EU-Russia Partnership in place by July 2009 is already looking unlikely, and the Europeans have no one to blame but themselves for the all the disorder within their own house following the failure of the Lisbon Treaty. This time we are talking about more than just veto grandstanding from Poland over banned meats, or Lithuania’s small state diplomacy preventing successful negotiation. Instead we’re looking at deeply fragmented Europe suffering a crisis of identity and purpose. In the recent past, the Kremlin has feasted upon these divisions in Europe to advance their energy interests and leverage political influence among key states. But this time it might be Moscow who is hoping that the EU can get its act together and make progress on the accord.
Russia’s new president Dmitry Medvedev was probably not pleased to begin negotiations with the EU following the Irish collapse, especially given how much effort was put into creating the sensation, merited or not, of “tabula rasa” with Moscow to repair the soured relations with Brussels during the Putin period. In fact, he stated in no unclear terms during his Reuters interviews that he views Russia as a part of Europe, committed to her values (or perhaps plans to be), and deserving of a “serious” pact with the EU.”It must be a serious document but at the same time not burdened with absolutely concrete things,” Medvedev said. “In terms of priorities for the relationship between Russia and the European Union — this is a relationship between the Russian Federation, a major European state which defines itself and conducts itself as part of Europe, and the European Union.“But other members of his staff seemed to recognize the stumbling block. In an interview with the Financial Times, Russia’s rep to the EU Vladimir Chizhov, expressed his doubts over the lack of clarity and the complications this would pose for Russia to get the agreement they seek: “I sincerely wish our EU partners find a way out of yet another impasse. (…) Above all, we’re not gloating. It’s not entirely a sign of the EU’s strength, of course, but we’ll be closely following developments,” he said. “We are prepared to deal with the EU as it is. With or without the Lisbon treaty the EU is still there. With the Lisbon treaty in force and a clearer picture of how the EU is organised it would have been easier to negotiate the pact . . . I hope it won’t delay the negotiating process.”Even Benita Ferrero-Waldner was preemptively making excuses for what will be a difficult process, despite the political willingness to make the pact “a backbone for a comprehensive mutual agreement and engagement.” See the video of her explaining how Europe is a “sui generis institution.”At the core of the failure of the Lisbon Treaty is a disagreement over the identity and purpose of the European Union, as the once urgent political expediency in the wake of World War II has dissolved into simple economic convenience in the perspective of many countries – which doesn’t add up to much more than the United States’s NAFTA agreement with Mexico.There was vast confusion driving the Irish vote to strike down the Lisbon accord. EU blogger Nosemonkey puts it quite succinctly: “I’d put at least a tenner on there being a majority of EU citizens who similarly couldn’t tell you the difference between the Council of Europe, the European Council and the Council of the European Union, another tenner on their not being able to tell you the difference between an EU resolution and an EU directive, another tenner on them not being able to explain the powers of the European Parliament, another tenner on a majority not being able to pick either European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering or European Commission President José Manuel Barroso out of a line-up, and yet another tenner on a majority thinking that the European Court of Human Rights is an EU institution (clue: it isn’t).“Most agree that the Lisbon Treaty simply had no teeth. There were no provisions for direct elections of EU Presidents, no energy agreements or provisions on how to handle Russia’s increasing energy grip, and no clarity of process for carrying out the votes.Russia is disappointed that the EU’s own internal problems is going to slow down their goals in terms of visa and travel rules, investment deals, and better leverage on Kosovo and the frozen conflicts. Europe of course was hoping to see these negotiations advance their energy securities, but the continent has never been further away from creating a “cartel of buyers,” as recommended in our recent Energy Prescription. The failure of the Lisbon Treaty really would not make any notable impact on the EU’s efforts to get Russia to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which would place the energy trade in a more secure, rule-based system to depoliticize the supply from Kremlin whims. Gazprom is simply in much too strong of a position, having made considerable inroads to strike down any alternative supply options for Europe’s future – from the Caspian to Nabucco and even onward to North Africa.Still, advancing with the next agreement with Russia is tremendously important for both countries, even if there are some major holes and flaws in it. Normalizing relations and establishing deeper contacts and mechanisms of dispute resolution will be helpful in solving Europe’s frequent problems with Moscow, creating a more predictable atmosphere with Russia integrated into the European system. At the same time, getting Moscow to play by these new rules will require Brussels to coax some hesitant discipline out its member states first.