A European Union Divided

Russia invaded Georgia in August in order to reassert its presence on the international stage, Denis Chaibi, an assistant correspondent in the European Commission of the European Union, told an audience of 17 in Luce Hall on Tuesday.

The invasion brought Russia back into the spotlight for the European Union, showcasing its importance two decades after the demise of communism, Chaibi said. At his talk, “The European Union Foreign and Security Policy after Georgia,” Chaibi said Russia’s invasion of Georgia was largely driven by its status as a power neglected in the international arena after the Cold War.

Although Russia and the EU often engage in superficial political dialogue, the fact that Russia has not been consulted about important international issues, such as the unilateral bombing of Serbia, Chaibi said, reveals how little credibility the EU has given to Russia as a partner.

“Double standards exist, but that’s what a power relationship is,” Chaibi said. “But if you have a great power like Russia and you treat it like a weaker state, you’ll start seeing clues. Russia was waiting for the right moment to reassert itself.”

Initially, after the invasion of Georgia in August, leaders in the EU disagreed about how to react to Russia, with many states siding instead with the United States on most issues, Chaibi said.

“They were divided because of bilateral relations with the U.S.,” he said. “In 2004, member states had become increasingly pro-U.S. as issues such as Iran and nuclear proliferation became important.”

But after Russia’s invasion of Georgia, member states realized how essential unity was to European interests, Chaibi said. Russia had to be restrained, and because of geographical proximity, any conflict between Russia and the EU would only weaken both sides, he said.

“The EU and Russia are right next to each other,” Chaibi said, “and if they were forced to engage in conflict, they would lose a lot not only because of military conflict but also because they are dependent on each other for commercial exchanges.”

The member states of the EU agreed to suspend negotiations on its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement — a partnership between the EU and non-member states that deals with political, economic, commercial and social cooperation — with Russia if Russia did not withdraw its troops, Chaibi said. In “using its commercial power politically,” Chaibi said, the EU managed to diffuse tension and improve its partnership with Russia.

This dynamic shows that although the EU is not a superpower, it is still an extremely relevant power in today’s international system, he said.

According to Chaibi, the EU will continue to play a large role on the international scene, but because of its unprecedented status as the first large supranational organization — which inherently undermines the concept of sovereignty — the future of the EU remains highly uncertain.

“It is difficult to make a prognosis on how [the EU] will develop,” Chaibi said.

Many of the talk attendees said they appreciated Chaibi’s unbiased portrayal of Russia in its invasion of Georgia and interaction with the EU.

“I thought it was very well-balanced,” Russian student Anna Ershova ’11 said. “I expected it to be more anti-Russian, but I found he preferred to stay away from trying to make judgments. If he didn’t, it would have been very controversial since a lot of the audience was Russian.”

Other attendees said they found it beneficial to hear from someone who has been personally involved and experienced in EU politics.

“It was great to hear from a European diplomat’s insights, which you wouldn’t hear in lectures from professors,” Sam Jackson ’11 said.

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