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Modernisation is the word for EU-Russia relations

Submitted by on 30 Nov 2010 – 15:43

By Knut Fleckenstein MEP,
Chairman of the Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee

Modernisation has become the new buzzword in EU-Russia relations since the Russian President launched his big modernisation campaign. This project has been welcomed by Russia’s partners in the European Union and has even led to the creation of an EU-Russia partnership for modernisation. But what is the common objective behind it? The usefulness of yet another new framework for cooperation with Russia has been discussed a lot, sometimes even controversially. I would argue that this partnership allows the EU and Russia to work on the very basis of their relationship.

The start of the modernisation campaign speaks for the Russian President’s will to launch a true debate: Medvedev presented his ideas on modernisation of Russia’s economy and its political and social life in a dedicated article called “Go Russia!”. This article was published first in a Russian online newspaper in November 2009. Shortly after, Medvedev reiterated his main ideas in his second annual state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly. He pointed out Russia’s economic dependence on the export of raw materials and called for economic diversification and technological modernisation.

The EU and Russia quickly agreed that Medvedev’s modernisation project would receive the EU’s support and that it would lend itself to become a joint project by both partners. At the EU-Russia summit in Stockholm in November 2009, Medvedev and the President of the European Commission, Barroso, spontaneously decided to establish a partnership for modernisation. Over the last year, both sides have been working together in order to determine concrete projects. Coordinators have been named on both sides. The following EU-Russia summit on 7 December will hopefully bring the partnership even more forward.

Although Russia’s modernisation project met a lot of enthusiasm among European partners, some EU member states were afraid the new partnership for modernisation might actually undermine the cooperation under the partnership and cooperation agreement, which is currently being renegotiated, or the four Common Spaces. On the other hand, several EU member states like Germany or France had already established their individual and bilateral modernisation partnerships with Russia and supported the idea of bringing the modernisation up to the European level.

The partnership for modernisation cannot replace existing frameworks for cooperation with Russia and it does not intend to so. Its interest rather lies in the fact that it is a very pragmatic tool presenting several advantages: it can help to establish confidence and reliability in the cooperation between the two partners and it can contribute to reaching concrete and visible results which would benefit the citizens on both sides.

However, the devil is in the detail: different understandings of the tern ‘modernisation’ rapidly appeared, when the EU and Russia began to single out modernisation projects which could be implemented by the EU and Russia jointly. For the time being, Russia seems to understand modernisation primarily as an economic and technological modernisation, whereas EU member states quickly adopted the point of view that modernisation should also touch upon the civil and social sphere.

Indeed, it seems obvious that a sustainable modernisation can only be reached by modernising not only the economy itself but also its social environment. Modernisation is an extremely comprehensive objective which cannot succeed without modernising the framework conditions for doing business. For example, the state must encourage the private sector to undertake innovation, to invest, to take entrepreneurial risks. It seems obvious that legal security plays an important role here.

The challenge of modernisation does not lie in the missing political resolution which has been expressed by the Russian President on many occasions. A successfully modernised economy needs a stable and efficient framework for its activities: rule of law, control of red tape, fight against corruption, energy efficiency as well as strong human resources and free entrepreneurship.

Modernisation, though, does not only concern Russia. The partnership for modernisation between Russia and the European Union serves the interest of both partners. Whereas negotiations on a new cooperation agreement between the EU and Russia are currently advancing only very slowly, the partnership for modernisation would allow doing some small steps on very concrete projects in the meantime.

Thus I would argue that the modernisation partnership can and should be used not only for modernising one partner but for modernising the relations between both of them in general. The EU and Russia should take this opportunity as a starting point on their way from a purely declaratory strategic partnership to a partnership with visible achievements. If the end result of the partnership for modernisation were cooperation on concrete terms – beyond all declarations and on the basis of common interests and values – this would surely give a boost to the general relations between Russia and the EU.