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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Getting the EU to Be on Its Best Behavior

The Lisbon Treaty entered into force on Dec. 1 after a difficult and at times dramatic ratification marathon. The treaty is intended to become a quasi-constitution for the European Union, an instrument of advanced integration in a world of increasing globalization. The treaty will undoubtedly give the EU new political and legal weight and extend its influence in the international community. This process reflects the political and economic realities of the 21st century.

Institutional reforms, of course, are highly important. They create a different international environment and motivation for the actions of the EU. And we can predict that this will have a strategic significance for the EU. Russia’s relationship to the EU is important in this regard. Russia and the EU are strategic partners. Their interaction in a range of areas approaches a form of integration that is becoming a very real factor in the security of the EU member states. For example, Russia provided about 42 percent of all EU gas imports and almost 30 percent of its imports of oil and related products. And in 2008, 58 percent of all Russian fuel exports went to the EU. Russia is the EU’s third-largest trading partner after the United States and China.

The volume of Russia-EU trade grew dramatically between 2002 and 2007, increasing by an average of 30 percent annually, and rose by almost 35 percent in 2008 despite the start of the economic crisis.

It is also a positive sign that Russian and EU positions coincide on a range of international problems that include nuclear nonproliferation, the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, the struggle against international terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, AIDS, pandemics, peace-settlement negotiations in the Middle East and so on.

This inspires the well-founded hope that with the EU achieving a new political status, the level of EU-Russia cooperation already achieved will not only be preserved, but will also grow further. This will depend in large part on whether the EU can avoid its egotistical “anti-partner syndrome” that it has shown toward Russia. Its official policy should be to eliminate the negative attitudes and essentially subjective views and practices that have played a preponderant role in relations between Moscow and Brussels. This includes Russophobia, double standards, ignoring Russian concerns and the anti-Russia character of individual EU projects.

Another problem is that despite all of the grandiose declarations of unification, many EU member states retain a critical view of Brussels and, according to recent surveys, are nostalgic for their previous national sovereignty, their own currencies and their former absolute independence in setting foreign policy.

Looking forward, what measures can be taken to improve EU-Russian relations? One good place to start would be to agree upon a universally recognized means for establishing standards, perhaps by adopting a “Code of Civilized Behavior for Modern States” based on the mandatory provisions of the United Nations Charter. It could very well lay the foundation for the EU and Russia to sign the strategic partnership treaty.

Vasily Likhachev, formerly Russia’s ambassador and permanent representative to the European Union in Brussels, is deputy chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the Federation Council. Richard Lourie will return to this spot next month.