Europe’s Empty PCA with Russia

eurussia062508.jpgThe Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the European Union and the Russian Federation, which will reopen for talks in early December, sounds and feels very appealing from afar.  Like any well marketed piece of diplomacy, it contains all the words that make us feel safe, fair, and respectful, providing for (in theory) a legal framework to guide relations between the EU as a whole and Russia – in such difficult spheres as energy, investment, and security.  Recently it was decided to resume the negotiations to prepare a new PCA with Russia following a punitive delay in the wake of the invasion of Georgia, despite Moscow’s failure to withdraw troops to positions held on Aug. 7, as agreed in the Sarkozy-brokered plan.

But can the PCA really solve so many problems so quickly?

Perhaps some of us could be forgiven for believing that this piece ofBrussels bureaucracy is some sort of panacea for all the problemsEurope has with Russia’s policies, or even a panacea for some of the problems within the EU itself, threatening its coherent identity and purpose.  Not Katinka Barysch of the Centre for European Reform,who today warns us that far from settling any of the major EU-Russiadiplomatic puzzles, the debate over the empty PCA represents adistraction in place of the real discussion that needs to take place. Barysch, who has written extensively and intelligently on the energy problem,argues that the EU is sending a message to Moscow and the world byopening up these discussions so quickly – that a new reality has beenaccepted in the Caucasus, and that we have returned to business asusual.  Excerpt below:

EU politicians do have a point when they say that the Europeans need tocontinue to engage with Russia in areas ranging from energy security topreventing Iran’s nuclear bomb. What is troubling, however, is that thedecision on the PCA was not accompanied by a more thorough debate onthe future of the EU’s Russia policy. EU leaders did ask the Commissionto conduct an “audit” of the different policy areas that matter for theEU and Russia, such as energy, trade, foreign policy, research andvisas. The result is an anodyne, technical document that does littlemore than illustrate the fact that the EU and Russia depend on eachother in many ways. The implicit conclusion is: let’s continue workingtogether. But the document does not answer the question why. Isco-operation a means to an end (it was once seen as a way towards a”strategic partnership” and “common values”)? Is it meant to furtherthe EU’s interests? If so, which ones and how? Or does the EU proceedwith the dozens of co-operation and support programmes simply becauseit cannot agree on an alternative?

The Europeans need a morepolitical, strategic debate about what they want and need from Russia.This will take time. The Georgia war has not narrowed the gap betweenthe different national positions as much as many people had initiallypredicted. But this gap makes a political debate on Russia all the moreurgent. By next year the Europeans will have to forge a coherentresponse to Medvedev’s proposal for a new European securityarchitecture. Sarkozy told Medvedev at the Nice summit that the ideawould be discussed within the framework of the OSCE in 2009. ButSarkozy did not necessarily speak on behalf of his EU colleagues, manyof whom suspect strongly that Russia simply wants to split theEuropeans and drive a wedge between Europe and the US. Nor did all EUgovernments welcome Sarkozy’s idea of a ‘deal’ on missiles under whichthe US would suspend the deployment of missile defences in Poland andthe Czech Republic while Russia would withdraw the threat of puttingIskander missiles into Kaliningrad.

The PCA negotiations -which will be conducted mainly by the European Commission – will notprovide the answer to such questions.