René Nyberg: EU-Russian Relations from the Point of View of the Finnish EU Presidency

An address by Ambassador René Nyberg, Head of Division for Eastern Affairs of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, at the EU-Russia Forum for Foreign and Security Policy in Berlin on 21-22 January, 2000

It should surprise nobody that the Finns have Russia on their minds even in the EU.

An agreement signed between Finland and the Russian Federation in January 1992 laid the groundwork for direct cross-border co-operation with the neighbouring areas, i.e. the Northwest of Russia and the Baltic States. The agreement sanctioned direct contacts with the Russian regions, a novelty that has influenced the continuously evolving relationship between the regions and the centre. Conceptually this was the first step undertaken to tackle the post-Soviet problems and opportunities at our doorstep. It is very gratifying to note that the Russian Government today advocates a similar cross-border approach with Estonia and Latvia.

The creation of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Council of Baltic Sea States represented similar attempts to come to grips with the new situation in Russia and the Baltic States. Both councils introduced direct cross-border contacts and developed a network of sub-regional ties.

The 1998 Finnish initiative to add a Northern Dimension (ND) to the policies of the EU was an attempt to develop the neighbouring- area and regional-council approaches into a concept for the enlarging Union. In this sense the ND represents a consolidated second-generation initiative.

From the EU perspective the ND is a novel approach since it has involved from the inception also the non-EU partners of the region. This has been of particular importance for the Baltic States, Poland, Norway and Iceland who have been able to participate -- through the ND -- in the formulation of EU policy vis-à-vis Russia.

Some of the underlying assumptions were hasty; a number turned out to depict the new situation rather well. Describing the relationship between Russia and the enlarging EU as one of mutual interdependence caught the essence of the changed situation. The Russia of today is more dependent on foreign trade and the Baltic ports than the Soviet Union ever was. But Russian gas will never heat homes in America. The shortest and fastest way to the European Union is via St. Petersburg to Finland.

The real novelty is of course that after Finland joined the EU in 1995 Russia became a next-door neighbour of the Union.

In less than ten years Russia will have not one but five EU members as her neighbours – Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Hopefully a sixth will follow suit in the not-too-distant future – Norway. After this Osterweiterung preceded by the Norderweiterung the Union will have reached its final outer border -- at least in the Northeast of Europe.

The analysis guiding the preparations for the Finnish EU Presidency emphasised the risk of a widening chasm between the enlarging EU and Russia. The existing socio-economic fault line at the Finno-Russian border and the fault lines growing today on the Baltic and Polish-Russian borders are alarming trends.

The EU Common Strategy on Russia adopted at the Cologne Summit in June 1999 is an attempt to consolidate and improve the Union´s policies towards Russia. The single most important achievement of the Common Strategy was the constructive response of the Russian Government in formulating its own thinking on the European Union. A Russian strategy on the EU was presented at the EU-Russia Summit in Helsinki in October 1999. Russia´s EU strategy together with Russia´s response to the ND initiative represent a quantum leap in Russian awareness about the European Union.

Several different factors that have contributed to the ongoing revision of the way Russia’s own place as a neighbour of the enlarging Union are evident in Moscow. It suffices to note only one example, which will continue to play a central role in the evolving relationship of the Union and Russia – Kaliningrad – the Russian exclave that will become an EU enclave within a few years. This was clearly stated at the EU-Russia Foreign Ministers’ troika meeting in Bonn in May 1999 when the Russian Government suggested talks about Kaliningrad in the framework of the EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement.

In order to survive in the Union the acceding countries bordering Russia will have to rebuild and restructure their societies in the course of only a few years. If, on the other hand, nothing is undertaken on the Russian side of the border – harmonisation of legislation, adoption of EU norms and standards – a normative divide will appear obstructing trade and co-operation with these very neighbours and the Union as a whole. The interests of Russia are best served by adopting the same rules and regulations as the rest of Europe.

It is manifest that the determining integration process in Europe is the enlargement of the EU – not that of Nato. The ongoing enlargement and the development of the EU will change the European continent beyond recognition. It would be detrimental to the security of Finland and the EU if Russia were to opt out of this dynamic process.