Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Impressions of political kind
December is an important moment for the relations between the EU and Russian Federation. In 2007, the active Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between Russia and the EU - which both sides agree has become outdated and is no longer able to meet today’s challenges - is due to expire. The forthcoming elections to the State Duma on the 2nd of December 2007 will set the tone for the future development of the country and will undoubtedly reveal few possible scenarios with regards to the succession of the current President.
The Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) forms the contractual basis of EU-Russian relations. It was concluded for an initial period of ten years that ends in December 2007. The question of the future of EU-Russian relations is likely to dominate the bilateral agenda next year and is of great significance for the development of the relations in the medium to long term.
The EU and Russia have essentially three basic options when considering the post-2007relationship. First, there is the possibility of abandoning the PCA without replacing it with another agreement (highly unlikely option). Secondly, the parties could allow the PCA to continue after expiry (this will occur automatically unless either side takes steps). Finally, the EU and Russia could conclude a new bilateral agreement to replace the PCA.
Probably the most beneficial option for both EU and Russia is a new agreement that would reinforce and potentially strengthen the widely acclaimed, strategic partnership. Although it has to be acknowledged that high level officials from EU or Russia alike admit that perspectives for a possible new legal framework of EU-Russia relations beyond 2007 remain unclear.
For both sides it is clear that the new PCA is not aiming at an eventual Russian EU membership and therefore the strategic aims to be set for such a reinvigorated partnership could contain elements of a greater economic integration and political dialogue. The idea that has emerged after the various meetings is that a new "PCA+" could be the formula for the future of EU-Russia relations. Exact definition of the "+" might become a matter for the future negotiations. Energy, enhanced free trade co-operation that takes into consideration of a possible Russian accession to the WTO are one of the few priority matters to be addressed by the possible new legal framework.
Not surprisingly when it comes to the general population in the Russian Federation the main interest and priority for the EU-Russia co-operation is clearly vested in the visa free regime.
There is some cautious optimism in the possible shift of the EU-Polish relations and settlement for the disagreement over the suspension by Russian authorities of meat import from Poland.
Elections to the State Duma
Decision of the President Vladimir Putin to head the list of the "United Russia" for the elections has escalated discussions over the future of Russian democracy and succession of the President. "Putin plan - victory for Russia" has unified the administrative resource and the entire bureaucracy from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. Stability is the key message offered by the United Russia and it receives a sound support from the population.
It is apparent that the biggest concern for the Kremlin is attendance. Ensuring high turn out to the elections seems to be the major pre-requisite for the successful election for Mr. Putin.
You do not have to be a prophet to say that only 4 parties will succeed to overcome an immense 7% barrier for the election to the State Duma: The United Russia, Communists led by Zyuganov, Liberal Democrats with Zhirinovsky and Just (fair) Russia with a "former" ally of the President Mironov.
In order to participate in the elections, parties like Yabloko or Union of Right Forces have paid a deposit of 60 million rubles ($2.34 million). Deposits will be returned after the poll to all the parties that gather at least 4 percent of the vote. It is probable that the threat of loosing the deposit and then having to reimburse the cost of pre-election broadcasts will create serious problems for the parties concerned.
Recent decision of Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to cancel its observation mission to Russian Federation due to delays and restrictions for its work has further raised concerns over the democratic nature of the elections. Russian authorities instead have confirmed participation of Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and OSCE along with the representatives from the Parliaments of CIS and other countries.
The upcoming half a year are of great importance for the future of the Russian Federation and clearly for the perspectives of EU-Russia relations. Partnership and Co-operation Agreement as it expires in 2007 leaves the economic, social and cultural co-operation in a robust shape, whilst political relations are probably at its lowest point in the history of bilateral relations. Ability to close the gap between the EU economic interest and political realities in Russia, will pose a major challenge for a future of any agreement.
It is apparent that in the long-term perspective interdependence between European Union and Russian Federation will grow and therefore it requires a sustainable settlement that takes into consideration various aspects, like deteriorating nature of democracy in Russia and increasing demand for energy supplies from the EU.
Economic growth in Russian Federation spurred by the growing oil prices have been providing the authorities with a high approval rating. It can be acknowledged that in the past years there was substantial economic development throughout the country. Some analysts speak of the emerging middle class, while others are concerned by the almighty bureaucratic apparatus. Addressing the growing poverty gap, challenges posed by internal migration, deteriorating demographic trends are just a few of the issues that have come up in various meetings and will further pre-occupy Russian authorities. EU-Russian co-operation can offer incentives for change in the Russian Federation. Advancement of the co-operation on the consensual matters should neither become a hostage of the political disagreements nor should it be an excuse to abandon political dialogue on problematic matters of the relationship like human rights and political freedoms.
The decision that was taken by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) should receive a clear political support since it gives a pertinent evaluation of the conditions set for free and fair elections in the Russian Federation. If ODIHR is not able to fulfil its mandate there are doubts of how honourable Parliamentary Assemblies will achieve it. Attention should be given to the situation of the opposition political parties in the Russian Federation in the aftermath of State Duma elections. It is not excluded that artificial legal and financial barriers created for them to participate in the political - democratic process might bring them to the eventual disintegration.
Overall one should never forget that while one might disagree with the positions that the Russian government takes, there can not be any generalisation that affect Russian people. As this is by the efforts of the Russian population that this country will find its path to the future.