Thursday, October 14, 2004

Are they listening to themselves? - Part IX

Even those of us who have disagreed on most matters with Chris Patten, outgoing External Relations Commissioner and future leader of the yes campaign, have always acknowledged his knowledge and intelligence. We may well have to revise our opinions, if his introduction to a collection of essays published by Policy Exchange and entitled The Perfect Union? New Europe and the EU is anything to go by.

The pamphlet is of some interest, anyway, as it discusses the great opportunities and certain difficulties of enlargement to the east, and we shall be discussing it in the future. However, our attention was caught by Mr Patten’s following rather curious comments:
“Our relationship with Russia, for example, will be greatly enriched by enlargement. We have over the years worked hard, if not always successfully, to develop a deep, strategic partnership with our largest neighbour. We have a major stake in doing so; and enlargement will increase that stake – the new EU will account for more than 50% of Russia’s external trade, and will continue to be a significant supplier of energy as we as a factor for stability on the EU’s eastern borders. Our incentive to instil democratic, market-oriented reforms in Russia, and Russia’s incentive to adopt EU standards and practices will only grow.”
What is he talking about? To start with, whose largest neighbour has Russia been for the last ten years? The EU has only just extended to its borders this year and, for the moment, that is true only in the Baltic. Unless Russia, Ukraine and Belarus reunite, which seems unlikely at the moment, the latter two countries are the ones the EU has common borders with.

Then the comment about supplier of energy: who is supplying energy to whom? The sentence is completely incoherent. As we have already pointed out, Russia supplies a great deal of gas to Eastern Europe and is well on the way to controlling many of the new member states’ energy industry. Whether it will parlay that advantage into a better position as far as Western Europe is concerned remains to be seen.

In what way is Russia going to be “a factor for stability on the EU’s eastern border” and who is doing the destabilizing? On the whole Russia has not been a factor in stability either in Ukraine or in Georgia, not to mention the Central Asian republics. She is not interfering too much in Eastern Europe because there is no immediate pretext but it does, from time to time, bare its teeth as far as the Baltic States are concerned. One and all, Russia’s neighbours view her with apprehension. What sort of external relations did Chris Patten deal with?

Finally, and most magnificently, we must turn to those democratic, market-oriented reforms. Maybe it was in the EU’s interest to foster them, but then maybe the EU should have made that view clear to President Putin, instead of blackmailing him and his country into signing the Kyoto Protocol.

I wonder what Commissioner Patten meant about Russia’s incentive to adopt EU standards and practices.

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