eurasian-unionTurkey’s President, Abdullah Gul, yesterday put forward his vision for a democratic Middle East with its own European Union-style regional organisation. It wasn’t entirely clear, though, what this might mean for Turkish membership of the EU. Has Turkey grown bored of waiting and decided to set up its own club? Or does President Gul see a place for his country as a “bridge” between the two regions?

Either way, it’s not the first time in recent months we’ve heard of plans for new organisations styled after the EU. Last month, Russian Prime Minister (and soon-to-be President?) Vladimir Putin announced that he wanted to see a Eurasian Union set up by 2015, incorporating Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and with its headquarters in Moscow. We had a comment on Debating Europe at that time from Giorgio, arguing that “if [the EU does] not continue the enlargement process, then [the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe] will fall back into the Russian influence”.

Another commenter, Nikolai, saw this a signal that tensions between Russia and Europe were increasing:

The geopolitical tug-o-war is back on. Despite the huge political energy spent by the EU on the [Eastern Partnership] nations, if they want to win this battle convincingly then they are going to have to act decisively and swiftly when it comes to negotiations, agreements and ratifications.

We recently interviewed Alain Délétroz, Vice-President (Europe) of the International Crisis Group, and asked him what he thought of Putin’s “Eurasian Union” idea.

This proposal for a Eurasian Union comes from Mr Putin whilst he is back in campaign mode. We have to remember, however, that he was mocked by the media in Russia afterwards as the “Eurasian President”.

I think we have to take this for what it is, which is a commitment to reinforce economically and politically Russia’s relationships in the region. Russia is especially concerned about the prospect of instability in its neighbourhood. The pogroms in 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, for example, were a wake-up call; the Kremlin was as surprised of the rest of us. Having said that, with the European Union, Moscow has always been less nervous than with NATO.

We’ve also recently been looking at the effects of the Eurozone crisis on security in the EU and its neighbourhood. What are Mr Délétroz’ thoughts on how the crisis could affect security in Europe?

Behind this, I see the question of a possible continental catastrophe with the EU disintegrating. The EU will either have to make huge steps forwards at the level of integration – maybe not the 27 but maybe just the eurozone. Either the eurozone will make these steps, and within 3 to 5 years growth will be back within the EU and it will be able to look outwards again, or the danger of disintigration is there.

In fact, the current political crisis might be more dangerous than the economic crisis. We hear no such pushes coming out of national capitals, no attempts at gathering citizens behind the old dream of Europe. I can say that in France I don’t remember any Presidential campaign where the European construction would not be put forward as a positive good. Recently, however, this attitude has disappeared when it is perhaps needed the most.

What do YOU think? Should the EU be concerned by proposals for rival EU-styled organisations in Eurasia and the Middle East? Or should it be keen to export the model of regional integration throughout the world (as former Irish Taoiseach John Bruton argued at a recent Debating Europe event). Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

Vote 2014

Voting is closed in our Debating Europe Vote 2014! The results are now in, so come and see what our readers thought!

10 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Cem Ozan

    E.U initially set for econom?c coporat?on among the member countr?es wh?ch later unfortunately they couldnt get understood each other very well and couldnt managed to rule coporat?on properly and that cost them brought about calopse of some countr?es and br?ng more to br?nk of econom?cal callopse ..

  2. avatar
    Patrick Leneghan

    Again we appear to live in different dimensions, the fantasy one of the EU and the real world.

    We are looking at cause and effect, action and reaction.

    IF it was JUST Europeans attempting to set up an economic bloc, (the action) then the Eurasian Union (reaction) would be a friendly addition to the mix and I am sure that there would be an environment of cooperation between the two.


    This is NOT the case, we have a spoiler, a deliberate spoiler deeply entrenched within Europe and that spoiler is the US&A.

    The overt and covert foreign policies of this spoiler, the US, is one of belligerence, violence and an openly stated policy of world dominance, using any means necessary and does not hesitate to use force.

    Whilst that relationship is there (EU&US), whilst NATO still exists (an EU force can easily replace that), whilst there are US nuclear weapons and military bases, dotted all over Europe, the only end game is going to be war.

    It is as simple as that.

    You (EU) have a choice.

    War (sticking with the US) or Peace (sticking up for Europe)

    The US has nothing to offer Europe AT ALL and never will.

    The Eurasian Union will probably react according to the choices made, by Europe and in the latest news, you can see where that is heading. I know that the US is not mentioned as the topic but in my opinion, it is the bogey man of the EU, the proposed Eurasian Union, Mideast Union, AU, China etc and this fact needs to be dealt with.

    • avatar

      Very true, couldn’t say it better myself.

  3. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    I do not see why Europe should be afraid when other regions are forming blocks…There are blocks of nations all over the World..ASEAN, AU, MERCOSUR, NAFTA, you name it..So what if the Russians and the Turks want to create more blocks…Perhaps that would be the solution to the Turkish EU membership saga…If we do not want them in, then let them do whatever they want.

    Are we afraid that two new strong blocks in our neighborhood will mean more competition? So what? Perhaps that will give us a kick up the back side to get a grip and solve our differences and do what needs to be done.

    And as Patrick says above, we should re-approach Russia and our relationship with this country..Our attachment to the hip with America is not good for us. We should be more independent from them, and have good relations both with America and Russia, be an equal partner to them, not their sidekick and little toss-ball. We should not fear Russia…We should have more independent foreign policies from USA, and re-establish our relationship with USA, Russia, Turkey, China, Brazil and India.

    All European nations should join the EU, that means both Ukraine AND Belarus. Russia and the EU should renegotiate immigration, freedom of movement, free trade and other bilateral agreements, while the Russians should expand their influence in central Asia…In that way, though Russia won’t never be an EU member state, it will contribute in the increasing of Europe’s influence in the central Asian region.

    With Turkey we could do the same for the Middle Eastern Region and the Southern Caucasus. Me thinks anyway..

  4. avatar
    Ioannis Michaletos

    The natural course of history as shaped by the economic, social and technological advancements dictates the formation of trading-political blocks that are remiscent of old Empires as the plan for Eurasia Union has showed which is merely a copy cat of the Soviet Union.

    As far as the EU is concerned the only way forward is integration through cooperation based on the universal values of democracy and the rule of Law. EU is on the verge of a crisis that may split it apart, therefore it is imperative for all states involved to bind their forces togsther and seek for mutual benefits in a world which is becoming increasingly competitive.

    Regarding Eurasia in particular, the formation of such a block may actually enchase trading relations because of the possible harmonization of economic and trade policies of Russia and its neighboring states, allowing EU corporations to invest in energy sectors especially. On the other hand, one should be carefull enough to avoid diplomatic mismanagement that may lead to another round of confrontations.

    In essence EU should strive to balance and cooperate with both North America and Eurasia (if it ever becomes a single voice), since EU is exactly in the midst of the world both in geopolitical terms and in economic ones as well. Depending on how Europe handles the latest developments, the whole issue can be very positive and lead to renewed world order that will stabilize international relations and the transnational threats the world is facing right now, such as terrorism, organized crime and many other facets of globalization.

    At the end of the day it all comes down how the European leaders take advantage of what lies ahead by examining pros and cons and make the necessary initiatives to lead and coordinate developments at hand.

  5. avatar
    Nikolai Holmov

    In order to understand the causal effects from any actions taken by a Turkish block or Eurasian block, we have to look at the drivers both for those blocks and for the EU to whom, initially at least they will react to rather than be proactive. That would change over time but the next decade would be structure building and reaction.

    What are the blocks for? Essentially they are for either economic or geopolitical reasons, or both.

    Whilst for the EaP nations, the EU is certainly an economic gain should free trade become a reality, for the EU, the EaP nations are not viewed in an economic light. There is no major economic gain for the EU with a FTA with Moldova or Georgia for example.

    The EU driver for the EaP is geopolitical and not economics whereas the EaP nations driver is far more economic related.

    Russian interest in nations like Ukraine and Georgia etc are also far more geopolitically driven than economics driven. That view maybe different with nations like Azerbaijan who are an alternative (and therefore a threat) when it comes to energy supply to the EU, thus Russia has a mixture of drivers when it comes to the EU EaP nations.

    The key to the EaP is Ukraine. It is bigger than France and the most populated nation. Should the AA and DCFTA fail to materialize, and I very much doubt that it will any time soon when it comes to ratification, then there will be no political will within Brussels to take on a continuously President-less Moldova (with a frozen conflict as well) or a Georgia with an increasingly authoritarian and oppressive President also with disputed borders.

    The EU will lose its geopolitical battle due to its sensibilities over Ukrainian opposition being subjected to judicial opaqueness and eventual incarceration. (I must say that the EU seems to care more about the fate of Ms Tymoshenko than the Ukrainian public, but then the Ukrainian public know she is far from being a saint like all Ukrainian politicians. In fact few regard her as the champion of democracy she claims to be.)

    Earlier in the year I wrote a piece about regionalism within the EU out of pure conjecture. I split it into the Germanic/Benilux region, Club Med and then a third region around the Black Sea. This would remove the problem children of Romania and Bulgaria from Central and Club Med regions and would allow for Ukraine and Turkey to join, both of which whilst unwelcome are necessary for immigration, organized crime, trafficking and energy routes amongst numerous reasons for the EU.

    In effect, the BSEC minus Russia becoming an EU region. It would of course create technical issues such as free movement etc but there are always solutions to technical issues.

    Those three regions could also have elected regional EU representatives returning some form of visible democratic mandate to the electorate whilst also removing the need for the EU parliament as it is currently formed.

    It is of course nothing more than free-thinking and will not happen but it would provide a mechanism for a geopolitical victory for the EU whilst regionalizing it.

    It would be very foolish to write-off the Eurasian Union proposed by Mr Putin. It would be equally foolish to write-off the same idea coming from Turkey if the EU wishes to remain a geopolitical player of significants on the global stage.

    There is a lot to be said for the ability to remain policy nimble in a small organization or as a sovereign state and as can be seen from the EU, such nimbleness has been replaced by an incredibly inert mass with 27 heads where few agree on policy and when they do, it is by consensus and thus the lowest common denominator acceptable to all.

    It is hard to envisage such a poorly constructed model coming from either Russia or Turkey having witnessed the EU system. One has to imagine a different decision making structure and also far fewer members, but both Russia and Turkey are major regional powers on the EU doorstep and any supra-structures they build should be dismissed only by the foolish should the EU lose the geopolitical battles both East and South.

  6. avatar

    Dear All,

    It was very interesting to read your comments and thoughts.
    I, personally, was not truly surprised on V. Putin’s proposal but I was keen on to find out what the young Russian generation feels regarding such an idea. Therefore, I contacted some people, both living in or outside of Russia and collected their thoughts. (if interested see the path below)

    On the other hand, whether the EU should be afraid of an Eurasian Union?
    […] Ever since the foundation of the EU in 1956, its member states have been engaged in building up their own competitive market. They paid little or no attention to the Eurasian territory as such. They did recognise the USA on one side, China on the other and made note of Russia but they assumed that states such as Belarus, Kazakhstan and the other ex-soviet countries would not exist. Consequently, there is no efficient western strategy towards this region. However, this supercontinent shouldn’t be underestimated. The Eurasian economic community (EurAsEC) was established in 2000 between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, cand Uzbekistan, ensuring their freedom of movement. Ukraine – which often acts as a buffer zone between the EU and Russia – currently only has an observer status, though the success of the Eurasian union might well be in Viktor Yanukovych’s hand….


  7. avatar

    The only fear the EU ought to have is that Russia is only doing this to increase its own sphere of influence and that it will impose cooperation rather than discuss.

    But then again, isn’t the EU showing signs that it is under German control lately?

    What can the EU teach, share and bring forward is really the issue. Fear is not constructive.

  8. avatar
    Kazimierz Chominiec

    Common Foreign and Economic Union as a whole will ensure the correct balance in cooperation with other countries, including Russia.Europe’s good relations with Russia are very important for stabilization.

  9. avatar
    Jeffrey Mankoff

    While the Eurasian Union project is likely to face substantial resistance from Russia’s neighbors, it suggests that with Putin’s return, the post-Soviet space will increasingly become a contested zone and an impediment to closer relations between Russia and the West.

    During most of the post-Soviet period, the principal debate within the Russian foreign policy elite has been about whether to prioritize relations with the West or to focus on restoring Russia’s leading role within the borders of the former USSR. Notwithstanding the 2008 war in Georgia, Medvedev has downplayed Russian ambitions of dominating the post-Soviet space while encouraging greater cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in the region, particularly with regard to the conflict in Afghanistan. With the Obama Administration intent on scaling down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, U.S. and Russian interests in the region are again likely to diverge, regardless of who sits in the Kremlin. Putin’s Eurasian Union idea is another indication that cooperation with the West will be less of a priority in the coming years.

    That said, the Eurasian Union idea seems driven less by an interest in promoting rivalry with the West for its own sake than merely boosting Russia’s political and economic influence in the post-Soviet region. The Eurasian Union proposal is designed to lower trade barriers, harmonize regulations and currency policies, and eventually lead to deeper political association. The West should have nothing to fear from these goals: it makes sense for a country like Kazakhstan, much of whose Soviet-era infrastructure and supply chains bind it to Russia, to make use of this legacy by lowering barriers to trade and investment with Russia. For poorer and weaker countries like Kyrgyzstan, it makes even more sense.

    There are, however, at least two caveats. First, participation in the proposed Eurasian Union, or any other post-Soviet integration project has to be voluntary. Though Putin discussed the Eurasian Union as an analogue to the EU, in fact the similarities are few. Most importantly, no country dominated postwar Europe politically and economically to the extent that Russia continues to loom over its post-Soviet neighbors. Russia’s population of 140 million dwarfs that of the next largest post-Soviet state (Ukraine, with 46 million); its GDP is roughly $1.4 trillion, or more than twelve times that of Ukraine or Kazakhstan. This imbalance raises questions about just how voluntary a Eurasian Union can be, especially since Russia has at times shown a worrying disregard for what its post-Soviet neighbors actually want, most recently in its fight with Ukraine over Kyiv’s desire to sign a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU. Two decades after the Soviet collapse, Moscow has not fully internalized the fact that its onetime dependencies are fully sovereign members of the international community. If it seeks to use the Eurasian Union as a tool to force countries like Ukraine to choose between cooperation with Russia and European integration, then the Eurasian Union will become a source of tension with the West.

    Second, a degree of skepticism is warranted about the viability of the Eurasian Union. This is hardly Moscow’s first attempt at providing an institutional foundation for post-Soviet economic and political integration. Earlier initiatives such as the CIS, the Russia-Belarus Union State, the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), the CSTO, the Customs Union, and now the Single Economic Space, have all tried preserving and promoting various pieces of the Soviet-era connections between Russia and its neighbors. While some of these institutions have been more effective than others (the Customs Union actually operates, while the Russia-Belarus Union State has never been more or less a fiction), none of them have left a major mark. The fact remains than the Soviet-era commonalities among the 15 USSR successor states are waning with each passing year. Belarus and Tajikistan never had that much in common to begin with, and as time goes on, they are becoming more and more distinct. Russia itself is no longer powerful or influential enough to act as the principal magnet for such far-flung states, which are increasingly diversifying their international engagements. Central Asia (where much of the youth outside Kazakhstan does not even speak Russian) increasingly looks to China, while the EU–notwithstanding its current agonies–is increasingly a magnet for states like Moldova and Ukraine. Moscow’s post-Soviet integration projects, of which the Eurasian Union is the latest and most ambitious, are in a sense a kind of rear-guard action to hold the line against the diversification of its neighbors’ international engagements. Until or unless Russia itself becomes more of a model and a center of gravity in its own right, ambitious integration schemes will not succeed in reversing the centrifugal force pulling its neighbors in different directions.

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