Contemporary political discourse in Russia mainly shares the criticisms regarding the current state and future of the EU. This criticism is motivated not only by the many problems facing the EU today, but also by the disastrous relationship between Moscow and Brussels. While setting the tone for expert and public debates, the official statements are marked by unprecedented harshness and undisguised pessimism about a common European future. Under the influence of this rhetoric, most Russian experts focus on the multiple challenges facing the EU today rather than on the obvious historical achievements of the European project. As a result, these forecasts suggest that the outlook for the EU looks bleak and dismal.
Still, the Russian academic community has a vocal group of Euro-optimists, mostly made up of experts who deal with European issues and a number of liberal opposition politicians. It is only natural that the views of the EU shared by this group are radically different from the official voices. They consider the common European project not only as the most successful historically but also as the most promising for regional integration. While admitting some problems and crises that accompany the development of the EU, Russian Euro-optimists are still convinced that Europe will eventually back down, taking advantage of crises and timely adjusting the strategy for further institutional development of the EU. the EU.
Although the two expert camps differ in their vision of the EU, they agree on several material challenges to the legitimacy of the EU and its proper functioning. It is the response to these challenges that will define the future of the EU. Russian politicians and foreign policy experts highlight the following most crucial questions:
Low strategic autonomy of the EU. Russia notes that despite numerous statements about the need to become strategically autonomous, independent from the United States, little of this has essentially translated into practice. Moreover, Joe Biden’s rise to power and his seat in the Oval Office are frequently interpreted by the EU as that there is no longer a need to be more independent. the de facto the abandonment of the objective of strategic autonomy, by separating from the United States, simplifies the strategic planning of the EU, while reducing the room for maneuver for the formulation of European policies, including vis-à-vis screw from Russia.
Most Russian observers believe that Europe will pay a heavy price for such a lack of strategic autonomy, with these costs only increasing over time. In particular, the EU will be affected by the inevitable exacerbation of the China-US confrontation as well as the resulting pressure exerted on Brussels from Washington to strengthen the West’s common anti-China position. Amid a more pronounced bipolar nature of world politics, the EU will have to follow in the US footsteps, abandoning its own agency. Projects similar to Nord Stream 2 will no longer be politically feasible. At the same time, dependence on the United States does not guarantee Western unity in the long run: we cannot rule out that a politician like Donald Trump may be sworn in in Washington as early as 2024, which is what Brussels is absolutely not prepared.
Loss by the EU of its economic and technological competitiveness. Despite its considerable economic, scientific and technological potential, the EU today lags behind North America and East Asia in many key technological areas. If this gap widens further, the EU could eventually become the industrial museum of the world. Subsequently, it can be marginalized from global economic and technological development. Problems related to the traditional features of the European social model will multiply – more than lavish social programs will see European labor become too expensive to be competitive in global markets. At the same time, its professional and geographical mobility in many EU Member States remains relatively low.
For Russia, such negative trends within the EU would accelerate the EU country’s pivot to China, Southeast Asia and other Asian countries. This pivot could be given new impetus once the EU introduces more sectoral sanctions against Russia in the high-tech arena or copies exterritorial sanctions similar to those instituted by the United States. More generally, the loss by the EU of its economic and technological competitiveness could call into question the value of the European social model as a guarantee of modernity and an example to be followed by other countries, including Russia.
Exacerbation of problems of European unity. Russia, like the EU, warns against the prospective emergence of some potentially dangerous dividing lines within the EU, such as the divide between “old” and “new” Europe, the North and the South, larger and smaller Member States, donors and recipients of EU funding. Brexit has only exacerbated this situation, causing multiple imbalances. Other disruptive processes can slow down integration or even set it back. National identity in many EU Member States could put the common European identity on the back burner. While most Russian experts don’t believe the EU would ultimately collapse, some predict that some of the functions that Brussels now has will be taken over by nation-states, which in turn would be bolstered by supranational administrative bodies.
The consequences of a potential weakening of EU institutions and mechanisms are still hotly debated in Russia. Some experts believe that Moscow will benefit from such developments because it has historically obtained better results from its bilateral relations with major European nations, such as Germany, France and Italy, rather than with the European Union in its together. Others believe that a weak EU, unable to speak with one voice, does not correspond to the Russian concept of a multipolar world and cannot be considered a reliable partner of Moscow. In terms of security, a weaker EU would inevitably mean a stronger NATO and a more robust US presence in Europe, which does not meet Russian interests. In economic terms, a weaker EU cannot adequately counterbalance China’s growing dominance in Russian foreign trade.
European isolationism. Russian observers believe that the further development of the EU and its legitimacy may be called into question by rising isolationist sentiments in EU countries and de facto abandonment of an active foreign policy by EU leaders. EU countries fail to agree on hot international issues like Kosovo, Venezuela, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc. Greater self-containment would mean that the EU is not just giving up its active role in regional conflicts such as Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. In this way, the EU will also give up creating and promoting global commons in the area of climate change, global web governance, human rights, food security and many more.
European isolationism will have a double impact on Russia. On the one hand, the Russian authorities will be happy if the EU no longer interferes in Russia’s internal affairs under the pretext of protecting human rights and if Brussels abandons its plan to possibly extend to the East in the foreseeable future. Once Europe reduces its activity in the East and the South, it will create more opportunities for Russia in Syria, Ukraine, etc. On the other hand, if the EU is relieved of its responsibility to develop and promote new rules of the game in important areas of global politics and economy, such rules would be increasingly imposed by Washington and Beijing. We cannot take it for granted that such a change in leadership in global rule-making is in Moscow’s long-term interests.
Demographic dip and new migration crisis. Russia takes note of long-term trends of declining EU population and possible new waves of large-scale migration to Europe from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa . Many Russian conservative analysts associate the declining demographics with characteristics of modern European liberalism, such as same-sex marriages, the breakdown of the traditional family, the loss of faith. Meanwhile, Russia, having abandoned a liberal development model, still faces even more serious demographic problems. Either way, the gradual shift in the demographic structure of the EU in favor of European Arabs, European Africans and other non-indigenous ethnic groups can be seen as one of the most serious challenges for the EU. the very existence of the EU and for the future of the European Union. nations in general, especially since there are still no optimal models for the integration and adaptation of these groups in Europe.
Russia is following with particular attention the European experiences in the management of international migration and its demographic strategies. Conservative analysts see what is happening in Europe as another reason to restrict migration flows to Russia (thus avoiding mistakes made by Europe). Some believe that Russia must become the legitimate heir to the traditional values of Europe (such as family, faith, state) which Europe renounces one by one. For the liberals, Russia and Europe share the same demographic problems. On the one hand, it proves that Russia is a European nation. On the other hand, it requires closer cooperation between Moscow and Brussels on demography and international migration.
This text was prepared within the framework of the international project on questions of legitimacy of the European Union of the German Hanns-Seidel Foundation. From our partner RIAC