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Krynica, Poland’s impressive Economic Forum, discussed last week a number of European policies. Sitting on a panel about geopolitical guidelines for Ukraine – I had an opportunity to present and complement my ideas on Europe’s architecture. (This earlier post triggered many reactions, some informal and a dozen posted on my blog. It was written with some Turkey angle, shortly after speaking at the Institut du Bosphore conference in Istanbul, My comments below naturally take an Eastern European angle.)  Already last Friday, this Krinica panel was covered in the Slovak press.

I advocated a better medium term vision, but first of all some overdue practical steps:
– suppressing the visa requirement and boosting student exchanges: like in the case of Turkey, mainly in the EU camp
– from the Ukraine side: implementing properly commitments already made, allowing a quick move toward full association.

My vision for the future was then presented briefly: a pan-European market, called EEC, soft governed by Europe 10 including Turkey, Ukraine, Russia .

Re-inforcing the need for a pan-European market with Ukraine and Russia

The East-West spirit of Krynica brought home hypotheses that were still vague. While I have real experience of Russia (consulting and book publishing in the 1990’s) and a little knowledge of Ukraine, it was refreshing to see different crowds mingle. For example, comparing the oligarch’s toughies pushing at the door, with sophisticated Ukrainian and Russian politicians, I think electable in Paris or Berlin.

Despite the presence of some key Westerners like Barroso, and some efforts by the French Chamber of Commerce in Poland, the main representants of ‘the West’ were Germans (in fact notably East Germans, for example the last DDR foreign minister. Elmar Brok reminded me of his ‘EEA Plus’ proposal for the East; it is indeed more elaborate than most alternatives to enlargement, but in my view building on a ‘small country’ concept with minimal consultation, certainly no model for Turkey.  In the last session, there was an ultra-liberal Thatcher adviser turned media man. He would have been booed in Brussels, Paris or Berlin, but was applauded in Krynica: a reminder that one thinks differently in ‘the East’  (a word to tease my Central European friends into reacting!). And why not? Despite the financial crisis, Poland continues growing and creating jobs…

Turkish reactions to this pan-European strategy are often competent, interested and… cautious. Ukrainian reactions show less experience of European integration, and more enthoutiasm. Why? The former got an EEC promise in 1963, negociate since 1999, and feel snobbed by ‘privilege partnership’ ideas. On the contrary, Ukraine does not even have an association agreement, let alone a confirmed European perspective, and is still growing its recent nationhood.

When I stated that Russia is a European country, a former MP  at Russia’s Douma countered that his country ‘is an elephant’, that would risk damaging such a ‘Europe 10’ forum. I answered that Germany is an elephant as well, but was told ‘it WAS an elephant’: fair enough, it choose decades ago to be domesticated. I saw lots of heads noding in the room when I argued that – to attract investment and provide economic stability – Russia needs the acquis communutaire (I mean inspiration from our laws, not subjecting to Brussels and Luxembourg rule),. Central and Eastern European elites understand both the political sensitivies and also the economic necessities.

Later talks confirmed that ‘elephant’ remarks were well meant, trying to find ways to fit countries of different sizes and ambitions, rather than questioning the pan-European market. Another Russian participant described for me Russian circles pursuing a ‘liberal / modernisation / European course’,  and who are the ‘grey cardinals’ advising the current and the next Presidents. He also suggested a Moscow academic review that would publish my ideas (while honoured,  I now privilege other forms of publication).

My take from talks with Russian and Ukraine experts

I believe that:
– Russia should be offered a ‘European horizon’, not to say a ‘perspective’, which would imply some later membership application. This need not be terribly detailled at this stage, but would help ‘bureaucrats of all Europe unite’, giving guidance to speed up all technical talks. A bit like the long term vision for a pan-American market, sometimes jeopardized by some NAFTA hiccups, but anyway guiding political visions in the Americas
– European leaders ponder how to answer Russia’s wish for a common security framework. It may make sense (not instead of NATO), but one should focus firstly on the economics (learning from the 1950’s debacle on European defense). Businesses on both sides need a vision for the continent, not just energy talks and arguments about border duties.
– this ‘European horizon’ for Russia has its own merits for both sides, and would also facilitate a ‘European perspective’ for the joint neighbour Ukraine with broad steps association / EEA-like agreement / eventual membership if it still makes sense. Following Turkey, except for the current block or dead end.
– discussing such hypotheses in the EU institutionnal set-up will not lead to consensus for a long time. And it is too often focusing on one country at a time (a Custom Union Council with Turkey, an EU-Russia Summit, an EU-Ukraine negociation meeting) and getting nitty gritty with long ‘tours de table à 27’. This is why the real leaders do not always attend, which is frustrating for the countries at stake. Hence my proposal of ‘Europe 10’ impulses ahead of the necessary EU machinery.

Supporting the debate in the West

The Eastern Institute organising this Forum has a long track record of Europe-Ukraine events, they were joined this time as main media partner by the EurActiv network, thanks to its Polish and Slovak affiliates. The founder of the Krynica Forum, a soft-spoken and visionary Pole, is – symbolically – more at ease in Russian than in English. He wishes to increase further Krynica’s impact, in the West, and deserves every support.

Aiming West was also supported by EurActiv’s own session on communication for Central European businesses and regions. Commission Vice-President Sefcovic welcomed lobbying as long as it is subject to general interest and transparency. Also core values for the media, said Editor-in-Chief Radovan Geist.

I shall continue debating Ukraine’s European path, at least personally, perhaps also as media entrepreneur. And gladly with help from further readers’ reaction…

Christophe Leclercq

Author :
EurActiv Network