The EU, Russia and the Eastern Partnership: What Dynamics under the New German Government? Note du Cerfa n° 109, Russie.Nei.Visions n° 74, February 2014
The Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November 2013demonstrated that the European Union’s policy toward its eastern neighbors has developed into a highly contentious issue between the EU and Russia. The summit was overshadowed by the decision of the Ukrainian government not to sign an Association Agreement with the EU and the following mass demonstrations in Kyiv. This paper analyses the EU’s relations with the EaP countries and illustrates that all of them are torn between intensified relations with the EU and joining the Russian dominated Customs Union. Although the EU is rather reluctant to start a power game with Russia in the “shared neighborhood”, the EaP has without doubt led to strained EU-Russia relations. As will be illustrated, it is difficult on the EU level to constitute a clearly unified position on Russia. Among the explanatory factors is Germany, which has in the past often not aligned its position on Russia with its EU partners. German-Russian political relations, however, underwent a change since 2012, as the Merkel government has become more critical about political developments in Russia. Although the new “grand coalition” with Frank-Walter Steinmeier as foreign minister will pursue a more conciliatory tone toward the Kremlin than in the past two years, the German government is nevertheless likely to more closely align its position on Russia with its EU partners, and will also not shy away from criticizing the Kremlin if the Russian government attempts to undermine the EaP.
Dominik Tolksdorf is Transatlantic Post-Doctoral Fellow for International Relations and Security (TAPIR) at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). He focuses in his research on the European Union’s external relations and particularly its pre-accession, neighborhood and crisis management policies.