THE EUROPE MEETS RUSSIA conference in Berlin brought together young leaders from the European Union and the CIS. Its very tight schedule was smartly developed by the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. However, culture was not discussed much and there were few Russia's speakers.
Taking part in this year's Europe Meets Russia discussions were two former foreign ministers of Estonia, one of whom is a current member of Estonia's parliament, and, for some reason, Moldova's ambassador to Germany. One of the speakers on the last day of the conference was former Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov. Europe's delegates also included former high-profile officials and NGO delegates from Germany, Great Britain and Sweden. I attended two discussions and gave a talk.
The most delightful part, however, was to see and hear young delegates who continue as students of European higher schools or lead their independent public organizations. They asked direct questions, without false political correctness, to indicate they were eager to comprehend the complex subject of relations between Russia and Europe.
It was gratifying to see them treating each other as friends and, most importantly, being eager to get this question answered: Is it realistic under today's conditions to bring Europe and Russia closer? One could see that the future plans of many of them depended on whether history comes up to their expectations.
Let's try to find an answer, or at least come close to finding an answer, to this question. It has become clear that the scope of global challenges suggests that we all should come together. "Coordinated global action alone will help us avoid a disaster," says Gordon Brown, British ex-premier of not long ago, in his book Beyond the Crash. "Unless the Americans, British, Russians, Indians and many other people and their governments come together to resolve the pressing global problems, we all are bound to loose." One can hardly question the author's main statement that global problems call for global solutions.
It is, however, an uphill task in real life to come up with solutions approved by everyone on the planet. When some people now say it is necessary to get cured of the Samuel Huntington syndrome and forget cultural differences, they forget that what is at issue is the reality of these differences, not Huntington. The Europeans know this from their own experience better than others.
In fact, clashing interests even in the most exclusive and savvy clubs cause estrangement and even conflicts, as was the case shortly before the G-20 Summit in Seoul.
Every little effort counts, they say. But it would take more than a little effort, in answering global challenges, to start bringing together different positions and formulating a common action program to build a greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
The affinity of cultures and a considerable range of shared interests make for this engagement to develop in a natural way, unlike the essentially sound but hard to implement, at this stage, the idea of bringing together all nations worried about the level of global threats. The world is yet to accumulate the critical mass of anxiety that can unite all and everyone, even if that may prove to be already too late.
If we look at the map we will see that Europe has no other strategic reserve for development but Russia. In the meantime the rapid economic growth in Asia paralleled by an explosive population growth is a challenge not only to the USA but also Europe. In fact we are at the base of a new wave of world development.
The share of Europe, the U.S. and Canada in the world gross product has been gradually declining since 1950. If this trend continues, as soon as 40 years from now, the rest of the world will produce nearly 80% of all material wealth while Europe's (and Russia's) population will rapidly age and decline in number.
A growing number of political figures in Europe are coming to see that Europe and Russia need to join hands. Shortly before his U.S. visit British Premier David Cameron made a surprise statement: "I envision a Europe that stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals ... a vital, growing
single market for innovations and discoveries, ... a continent of great political will. This will not be a federal state. This will be a country named Europe."
The amazing thing is that the British politician, leader of the Conservative party, repeated almost word for word De Gaulle's 1959 idea for a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.
The British premier echoes Vladimir Putin's remarks about the creation of a Eurasian Union: "The Eurasian Union will be founded on universal principles as an inalienable part of greater Europe ... As far back as 2003, Russia and the EU agreed on forming a common economic area ... without the creation of supranational structures. As an extension of this idea, we have invited the Europeans to think together about the creation of a harmonious commonwealth of economies from Lisbon to Vladivostok, and about a zone of free trade and even more advanced forms of integration..." This union, Putin believes, could "serve as an efficient link between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region."
A 250-page Europe-Russia economic space report was recently presented at the Elysee. The report was commissioned by Nicolas Sarkozy to Jean-Pierre Thomas, Managing Partner of Lazard Freres and former deputy of the parliament. The report says that there exists "actual complementarity" in Russia's relations with Europe, and the forming of a free trade zone with Russia will boost economic growth of the EU.
At the same time, Russia's share in European trade does not exceed 3%. A mere one percent of Russian investments go to Europe and 35%, to the U.S.
The report compiled by Thomas has much to say about the capacity and prospects of Russia's market and about multilateral trade. The one country that takes the best advantage of the circumstances is Germany. In 2011, German export to countries of the European zone grew by 8.6%, its overall export grew by 11.4%, and its export to Russia by 30%; the corresponding import figures were 12.9%, 13.2% and 26%.
In other words, Germany's trade with Russia is growing much faster than its trade with Europe and the rest of the world.
As far as Germany and indeed other EU states are concerned, this is not only a matter of the economy but also of internal policy. The European market has grown too crowded for its participants and primarily for Germany. London has more than once criticized Berlin for upsetting the balance of trade in the European economic area.
For their part, countries of Eastern and Central Europe, unable tocompete against the more powerful rival economies of the European club, are forced to scrap productions that had long enjoyed demand for their products on the Russian (Soviet) market.
A recent poll among German entrepreneurs in Russia showed that two thirds of them think their businesses are fairing well or very well (in 2009, only one in five of them thought so) and the same number plan to increase the number of workers in their operations in Russia.
As a matter of fact, multidimensional systemic cooperation calls for an agreed regulatory framework, or normative base, and appropriate legal instruments. It is unfortunate that Brussels still tends to resort to its own legal rules in dealing with Russia which is not a member of the EU.
To quote from The Economist: "The EU's claim to importance is that, as the biggest market in the world, it matters. As an example of peaceful integration, it is a 'normative power', able to set a magnetic example of cooperation. But what normative power can the EU wield if its biggest project, the euro, is seen to be in danger of collapse?"
Clearly, it is high time for Russia and Europe to design a mechanism for making joint decisions. One can hear of late increasing calls for a Russia-Europe Council to be modeled on the Russia-NATO Council.
It is equally clear that the growing "complementarity" potential also implies a much higher level of mutual dependence. But precisely the latter scares those in the habit of thinking in Cold War terms. The Berlin conference showed that it would take much effort to prevent the obsolete stereotypes from drawing dividing lines in Europe.
Many speakers during the discussions in Berlin cited a lack of mutual trust as the main hindrance to closer ties between Europe and. This brings back the words I heard from Professor Robert Legvold of Columbia University (USA): Trust is the result of a process rather than its beginning. What we need is a process of development rather than institutions so that we could end the low level of trust working together on a common practical agenda. Prof. Legvold presented his view at the international missile defense conference in Moscow. Many young leaders attending the Berlin conference favored precisely this approach.