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Between Cooperation and Competition: Major powers in Shared Neighbourhood – lessons for the EU

Eurasia: the EU and Russia in their shared neighbourhood

The first speaker, Laure Delcour, a French scientific coordinator of the EU-FP7 project CASCADE, argued that Russia and the EU were today competing to keep or gain influence on countries situated in their shared neighbourhood, notably Ukraine, Moldovia and Kazakhstan.

For her, the two blocs have continuously failed to cooperate because of their incompatible identities. Theoretically, the EU portrays itself as a ‘normative power’ (Manners, 2002). Likewise, they claim to rely on soft power and norms diffusion to influence foreign policy. On the contrary, Russia is often perceived as a non-normative or a realpolitik oriented power (Casier, 2013). It is often seen as a regional hegemon seeking to limit the influence of other actors through hard power and coercion.

Yet, Ms Delcour argued that the EU has not always acted as a normative power, the case of Azerbaijan being one in many examples. For her, the EU has always been acting in its own interest hiding its true motives behind its normative discourse.

As Torbakov (2013) described it, we can better understand the relationship between Russia and the EU if we see it as one between a neo imperial EU and a post imperial Russia.

Secondly, it is often argued that both blocs compete because of their aim. Yet it has become increasingly obvious that the EU and Russia have the same aims in the region, namely stability and security.

The only thing distinguishing them is their approach; the EU seeks to have a transformative power where the adoption of EU norms would eventually bring prosperity and stability. This approach is meant to be costly in the short term with long term benefits.

On the contrary, Russia’s influence works through a lesser degree of institutionalisation. Russia is able and willing to tailor its instruments to the context of each country and is able to react shortly, in order to get short and long term benefits.

Ms Delcour concluded her remark by arguing that the EU’s interaction with Russia has been characterised by “failed attempts to cooperate”. Russia has always refused the European neighbourhood policy (ENP) and the “normative” conditionality attached to it. She explained that it is why the Common space on external security that both actors have been negotiating upon for year never actually materialised.

The ENP, instead of bringing the two actors closer, isolated the EU from Russia and reinforced the centric nature of most of the EU external policies. Illustratively, the EU ignored the existing interdependence between Russia and other countries situated in their common zone of influence which increasingly raised Russian concerns and scepticism.

This rivalry has already had negative impacts for six of the countries located between the actors, notably Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia. For Ms Delcour, the EU needs to be less Euro centric and adjust to the regional realities if it wants to have a working relationship with Russia, in order to have a positive impact on the international scene.

The second speaker, Vsevolod Samokhvalov, an Ukrainian researcher at the University of Cambridge, argued that the EU/Russia relationship was based on misunderstandings.  He explained that the EU did not understand how important the Black sea region was for Russians. Historically, culturally and strategically, Crimea notably had in fact always been seen as a “blessed” area, vital for Russia’s survival.

Furthermore, he explained that the countries situated between Russia and the EU are mainly former Russian colonies. Russian officials hence believed it was only legitimate that Russia would keep its influence on this zone. In the early 2000s, Russia offered the EU the possibility to deal with those countries as a “shared project”. The EU’s refusal showed that officials at the time were probably too arrogant to understand they needed Russian’s cooperation to positively develop the region.

The Crisis in Ukraine is for Samokhvalov, the best illustration of those misunderstandings. The protests in Ukraine were for him not about the EU but about the corruptive and authoritarian tendencies of the government. The fact that the EU decided to negotiate with a corrupted president gave Russia more ground to criticise the EU. Russia completely stopped believing in the EU’s normative discourse.

Samokhvalov concluded by arguing that Chinese officials were in fact more skilful in dealing with Russian sensitivity than their European counterparts. They understood that perceptions, symbols and respect mattered for Russian officials, and visited Russia 11 times over the past 4 years. For Samokhvalov, the EU needs to adapt to different countries and needs to accept that the alleged “normative superiority” of the EU is over. The EU needs to understand that mutual learning rather than arrogance is a key to achieve good diplomacy.

The 3rd speaker, Timofei Bordachev, Russian director of the centre for Comprehensive European and international studies (CCEIS) in Moscow argued that Russia and the EU could not cooperate because of their identical aims.

For him, both blocs want their neighbourhood to be stable and prosperous. The problem is that they also both want access to cheap labour force and economic market. The example of Ukraine is for Bordachev striking; both Russia and the EU offered the country an integration model and forced Ukraine to choose the way in which the country would open its market.

Comparing the EU/Russia relationship with the Russia/China relationship can help us understand why both actors have failed to cooperate in the past years. Chinese and Russian interests are not identical: they are complementary, Russia wants integration, China wants to invest.

Furthermore, Russians have all reasons to believe that the TTIP will happen sooner or later, which renders cooperation with China extremely important if both actors want to have a say in the global economic government.

Bordachev concluded his remark by explaining that before 2003, the idea of a common space was influential. However, Russia grew increasingly sceptical of the EU after the colour revolutions and the emergence of the “Eastern Partnership”. Only then did Russia start to negatively equate the EU with other western organisations such as NATO. He argued, as did Ms Delcour and Mr Samokhvalov, that the EU urgently needed to get rid of their false normative discourse, and treat other actors on an equal footing.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA): the EU, Turkey and the Gulf States in their shared neighbourhood

The second session focused primarily on the relationship between the EU, Turkey and Gulf states and the current balance of power in the Middle East and North Africa.

The first speaker, Tobias Schumacher, a Chairholder of the European Neighbourhood Policy Chair, discussed the relationship between the EU and Golf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, namely, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He noted this Arab neighbourhood is characterized by an absence of equity and varying foreign policy strategies. He argues GCC members and the EU have in common their objective of “milieu shaping”, which refers the ambition of actors to ensure or maintain the rules of the game that depends on the determination of the actors to use their resources. Although the EU and GCC members have both engaged in the Union for the Mediterranean, they have largely acted in an uncooperative fashion, with the exception of actions concerning the Syrian crisis.

He identifies the lack of cooperation and rather “mutual ignorance” arises from issues of identity and self-conception and more particularly, how the EU and GCC members view themselves shapes how they perceive their neighbourhood. While the EU’s identity draws from liberal principles, GCC members are rather embedded into the realist paradigm and influenced by zero sum consideration, and hard power. GCC members’ actions are driven by geopolitical and security concerns, as well as regime security concerns. GCC members and especially Saudi Arabia and Bahrain perceive their neighbourhood through a sectarian prism, which pushes them to conceive “milieu shaping” as a toll against what they perceive as Shiite Iranian expansion. GCC members are also driven by regime security and have the ambition to contain negative spillovers, such as Muslim brotherhood and Islamism, which could undermine their already fragile legitimacy. For instance, they attempt to silence domestic islamists through anti-Assad and anti-Iranian moves in order to appear unite behind this alleged shiite threat.

In contrast to the GCC’s realist logic, the EU aims at turning its Mediterranean neighbourhood into a peaceful area through the adoption of a liberal and normative orientation and focuses on long-term milieu shaping strategy. Schumacher thus argued their relationship relies on the way those actors look at their neighbourhood.

The EU policy towards the Middle East and North African region has recently shifted towards stabilization strategy and realist concerns, thus moving away from its traditional normative approach. Nonetheless, he argues this convergence between EU and GCC policies will not lead to cooperation, and points four reasons:

  1. The EU and the GCC share different conceptions of what neighbourhood entails. For GCC members, the Arab middle east is a distant place and is therefore not their ultimate foreign policy, while it is for the EU.
  2. Even if the Arab middle east was the ultimate foreign policy priority for GCC members, they are looking for direct gains.
  3. The EU remains a fragmented and divided union, therefore EU members prioritize their own domestic agenda and lack of commitments.
  4. Both GCC and EU members institutionalized their cooperation in a bilateral fashion rather than at the EU level.

Resulting from this lack of common ground, Schumacher concluded it was not realistic to assume cooperation was possible in the near future.

The second speaker, Louise Fawcett, a professor of International Relations at Oxford University, discussed the current relationship between the EU and Middle Eastern powers especially Turkey, as well as the role of the EU in the MENA region. She identified the challenge faced by the EU in defining the neighbourhood and engaging with its major power as the MENA region does not have a well-established hegemon and supranational institution. The lack of cooperation of the EU with the Middle East therefore lies in the issue of definition. While the promotion of a major power in each region is crucial for the engagement of the EU within a region, the MENA area comprises states that do not identify with the other such as Israel, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. Arab states’ fragmented identity and absence of regional power dynamic results in a lack of collective enterprise or states acting as a major power, which jeopardize the capacity of the EU to engage in the region.

The recent events and developments that occurred in the Middle East further complicate the engagement of the EU within the region. Egypt, which had previously been identified by the European community as a key regional partner, is in decline since the Arab spring and the following domestic tensions and disturbance. Turkey is increasingly perceived by the EU as a bridge state and a regional stabiliser arising from its popularity among the region. Nevertheless, Turkey’s internal issues and recent tensions with the EU questions the extent of cooperation between the two.

On the other hand, the EU is not a single and homogenous actor, although it has in the past proved it is able to centralize and align on issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict. The multiple agenda of EU’s Member States combined with the blurred definition of what is conceived as the ‘Middle East’, compromise prospects of partnership and cooperation between the EU and its Middle Eastern neighbourhood. Louise Fawcett concluded the EU is not adopting enough to changes in the region and therefore needs to adapt to new regional realities in order to enhance its cooperation with the region.

The last speaker of the session, Ozlem Terzi, a professor at Istanbul University and a visiting scholar at the College of Europe discussed the two speakers’ presentation. She argued that while the EU was initially created to overcome realism, the current EU’s relationship with the MENA region leads commentators to argue the EU might have to go back to realism. Geopolitical and economic interests, as well as historical ties are tools the EU should use in its relationship towards the region.

She also argued there was an ideological game within Islam taking place in the MENA region and explained that if the EU wanted to take part in it, it might do so through entering an ideological debate as opposed to a geopolitical one. She indeed argued the EU had to play a normative role and promote its values and principles, otherwise the EU will loose the game against Russia and the Middle East.

To conclude, professor Terzi argued the EU’s future relationship and rayonnement among its Middle Eastern neighbourhood was contingent on its capacity to play the normative game and promote its values and principles, instead of letting itself dragged into power games. It is only by playing on its liberal and universal principles and values that the EU will strengthen its regional relation and cooperation with the MENA region.

Asia: China and India in their shared neighbourhood

The third session was about the shared neighbourhood of India and China. According to Carla Freeman, India doesn’t accept China’s leadership and tensions continue to define the relationship between the two countries. The development in the region is hampered by the security dilemma and the competition for power. China wants to act as a paymaster and promote its vision of regional connectivity but India doesn’t want to compromise on security matters nor be a junior partner

Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, the second speaker of the session, reminded us that India is the 2nd largest country after China but it will soon overcome this country in terms of population. India’s economy is the 9th largest in the world and the 3rd largest armed forces but it’s pace of growth is the fastest in the world so India has a clear view on its place in the Asian neighbourhood.

China and India have fought in the past, the current conflict is about the length of the border. China blocked a move that India started at the UN and India blocked the China’s membership to an important nuclear device.

The two countries are important trade partner’s, 20% of India’s exportations are from China. its exportations. These partnerships are expected to increase as India has joined China’s led investment and development bank. However, India remains the hegemon in South Asia in terms of its territory, hard power and soft power. Pakistan is also an important power in the region, with a nuclear arm. It is starting to turn to China, and the corridor opened by this bilateral partnership could lead to projects of 15 billion dollars. India has publicly shown its opposition to this partnership because it would go through its contested territories.

The Indian ocean is important for India’s foreign policy. With the United States they are doing exercises without China because it wants to be a security profiler for the Indian ocean. In this regard, it also has renewed relations with Japan, Australia and Vietnam: many India ships pass through the China sea.

Lessons the EU could draw from this relationship is that dialogue is important because both countries have managed their issues, it is more important to manage the dispute rather than solving it. According to the speaker, it is not time to resolve their problems.

The situation in Pakistan is important in the China India relationship. China and India do not accept each other’s normativity and moral ground. Both countries see themselves as exceptional, although China is not seeing its neighbours as equals. However, the Chinese government is being more pragmatic towards India since this poor country has developed so fast.

The Americas: Brazil and the United States in their shared neighbourhood

Finally, the fourth session focused on the America’s. Any Freitas opened the discussion by an analyse of Brazil and the United States’ relationship, which have moved from cooperation to competition. It seems lately that both countries don’t understand each other anymore which creates a distance. Brazil considers itself as a big and rich country and thinks in this respect that it should have a say on the international scene. It distanced itself from the US and increased its relation with other countries so as to gain power and access to markets. This strategy is pragmatic: the aim is not to oppose the US. From the US perspective, the Brazilian search for more autonomy was perceived as a challenge, there has been growing suspicion over the country reliability.

Brazil is not a leader in South America, many of these countries have China as their main partner. Latin Americans feel empowered by the economic changes.

The seconde speaker, Tom Long, focused his speech on the concept of asymmetry: between the United States and Brazil, the United States and other Latin American countries and between Brazil and its neighbours.

The literature on South American has four major trends. Either they present regionalism as being a US led hegemonic project, or more recently researchers talk about post hegemonic regionalism. A part a literature also affirms that South America is a Brazil led space whereas the fourth trend identifies a US-Brazil and South American nexus.

The relationship between the US and Brazil has its ties historically during the Cold War where they were both anti-communist countries. Recent fluctuation show a shift from Latin American to South America where Brazil is trying to move the narrative to South America in order to reduce Mexican claims to the region. There also a shift in the use of Mercosur that is more focused on political integration and identity. Alongside a new regional institution was created in 2008: UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). Thus, the US is less engaged economically and politically in the region.

In the asymmetrical theory, asymmetry must not be confused with hierarchy: in this relationship the smaller state has more exposure that in a hierarchical model. Tom Long presented four models shaped by triangles that represents four different kinds of relationships. One of these triangles is a relationship between Brazil, US and Venezuela where Brazil tries to play the “pivot” in romantic triangle, Venezuala is included in Mercosur but there’s a refusal to denounce deteriorating conditions. Another triangle is a “ménage a trois” between Brazil, the US and Uruguay  where Brazil tries to pull Uruguay closer.

According to Malamud, the Brazilian strategy of institutionalising its relationships had an ideational and ideological appeal but lacks the material resources. The US retains a significant latent and structural power. This asymmetry is fundamental and needs to be managed. The Brazilian crisis has diminished its regional influence and other actors appeared on the scene such as China, which reduced the effectiveness of the US coercive power.

The third speaker’s thesis was that the US was never interested in Latin American because they are far from any burning theatre. According to Allado, in the Americas the US was never a global power. The pan American union was the first idea of a regional union: the US needed some legitimacy to be the policeman of the Caribbean and the other countries needed a framework to set up the rule of law. The US took a more interventionist stance during the Cold War and relaunched its strategy after the Cold War: as long as energy migration and cocaine were under control, the US were satisfied.

Brazil can be an annoying problem for the US but is not a burning one. For a long time, Brazil was freeriding the US security framework. Brazil is rather obsessed with its domestic development and not in their Hispanic neighbours. They managed the neighbourhood in the 70’s-80’s but didn’t wan to get involved in the domestic affairs. Furthermore, with the Cold War and the dictatorship, a new generation came to power that was opposed to America.

Lula was very good friends with Bush but the main Brazilian priority was not South American but to become a global player by playing the US and the EU against each other for trading agreements. However, to be a global player Brazil had to demonstrate its leadership in the region but no other country wanted to be a leader so Brazil was fighting over its weight. When Dilma came to power, she abandoned the global power goal, the came back to traditional policy with traditional strategies and a day to day management of the domestic affairs.

Latin America is a very fragmented space: they share a same language but a divided nations. No one sees Brazil as a leader and wants to be a follower. There’s not a South-North divide in America but rather a South-West divide: Chilli and Mexico are trying to get integrated in the global world by having agreements the US.

Brazil does not want to integrate, it just wants to avoid the emergence of another regional leader. It is a very different way to look at regionalism. In contrary to the EU, Brazil doesn’t want to integrate in all those regional groups. What counts is that there are a lot of institutions where all countries can talk and avoid hegemonies coming in the region. So the lessons the EU could learn from this is to stop trying to export its model: Mercosur will not be the same as the EU. The EU needs to be pragmatic, South America is one the last region with some similar values and ways of dealing so the EU has to be careful with that.

The EU needs to reconcile its norms and interests: a new theoretic pragmatic principle. There’s a need for more intercultural understanding, the dialogue needs to be political and not technocratic. For Allado, efforts must be done to put in place stronger forms of institutionalisation.

Concluding remarks

Michael Reiterer, the principal advisor at the Asia and Pacific department in the European External action service, concluded the conference.

He explained that the criticisms he heard during the day were in lines with all the criticism the external service had received during the past year as part of the ongoing review process. A special website had been opened for any European citizens to express the changes he or she wished to see happening in the way the European Union was dealing with its foreign affairs.

The first conclusions of this year long review will be published in October, followed by a new road map for the external service in November. The new strategy will  be based on two main themes: security and prosperity. Furthermore, the external service will now focus on a more functional approach. The “One size fits all” strategy will not be relevant anymore as the review has shown that it led to high expectations and negative results. He also explained the old strategy, which aimed to export the EU model through conditionality, would be not part of the new road map. The EU will now be pragmatic and look at the world the way it is and not the way it wants it to be.

He argued that the strategy will now be based mainly on two forms of diplomacy: economic diplomacy and cultural diplomacy. Through these sorts of diplomacy he said the External service hoped to gain leverage on the international scene. Instead of waiting for changes through conditionality based on the European Normative model, he said the EU had to act as other international actors do if they really want to have an impact.

The EU only publishing a “very concern statement” whenever an other actors acts in a way that violates European values will also end. From now on, through economic diplomacy and cultural diplomacy, the external service hopes to pull out different kinds of leverage and have more influence. He concluded his remark by explaining that this review has helped the EU to combine realism with idealism. This new model is meant to help the EU adapt to the reality of the world without giving up completely on the promotion of European values.

Kim Chardon, Elisa Neufkens, Emma Aubert

Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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