The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

  • What are dominant views in your country on future relations with Russia?


“ambi­gu­i­ty between spe­cial rela­tions and weariness”

The ques­tion on future rela­tions with Rus­sia is a com­pli­cat­ed one that is answered ambigu­ous­ly by most authors. Many of the EU mem­ber states are described to actu­al­ly have a close or spe­cial rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia. This is based on ener­gy depen­den­cy (Hun­gary, Slo­va­kia, Fin­land) or more gen­er­al­ly ener­gy inter­ests (Italy), eco­nom­ic inter­ests due to trade rela­tions (Croa­t­ia, Fin­land, Ger­many, Slove­nia), geopo­lit­i­cal rela­tions (Arc­tic – Den­mark) or a his­toric cen­tral role in exter­nal rela­tions (Fin­land). In the case of Greece, it is based on a com­bi­na­tion of his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al rela­tions and the per­spec­tive of increased coop­er­a­tion in the ener­gy sec­tor. The same applies for many oth­er mem­ber states due to the ban of exports of the food sec­tor to Rus­sia based on the sanc­tions it imposed on EU mem­ber states. These dif­fer­ent kinds of spe­cial rela­tion­ship do not pre­clude judg­ing Rus­sia as increas­ing­ly unsta­ble and a threat lead­ing to poli­cies being guid­ed by pes­simism and pragmatism.

At the same time, the sanc­tions are sup­port­ed if not enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly but by a major­i­ty accord­ing to all reports. They are not seen as a means to them­selves how­ev­er and should be care­ful­ly re-eval­u­at­ed accord­ing to many. Only a minor­i­ty of coun­tries advo­cate a lift­ing of the sanc­tions imposed on Rus­sia. In many coun­tries there is a sen­ti­ment how­ev­er, that the medi­um- to long-term goal should be to re-estab­lish good work­ing rela­tions with Rus­sia (Fin­land, Ger­many, Italy, Lux­em­bourg) by remain­ing open to dia­logue (the Netherlands).

There are excep­tions to this posi­tion in both direc­tions: in the Unit­ed King­dom it is report­ed to be believed that Rus­sia was pro­voked by the EU’s aggres­sive diplo­ma­cy con­cern­ing the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment. Hun­gary is one of the mem­ber states report­ed to be pur­su­ing a strong pro-Russ­ian for­eign pol­i­cy, while pub­lic opin­ion is more bal­anced than the polit­i­cal elites. The oppo­si­tion against sanc­tions is grow­ing in Lux­em­bourg. Oth­er mem­ber states’ debates reflect a more mis­trust­ful posi­tion vis-à-vis Rus­sia, these include Esto­nia and Latvia in alliance with Poland but also Roma­nia. Unlike Ger­many and Italy, who strive for a polit­i­cal solu­tion of the Ukraine cri­sis, Eston­ian offi­cials sup­port the arm­ing of Ukrain­ian forces by NATO. Oth­er coun­try reports present the fact that the coun­tries are also increas­ing their defence spend­ing (Fin­land, Latvia, Lithua­nia, Swe­den). All three Baltic reports men­tion the dif­fi­cul­ty of inform­ing their Russ­ian speak­ing minori­ties through alter­na­tive chan­nels than Russ­ian media, which they label propaganda-based.

While the Russ­ian stance in the Ukrain­ian con­flict is a cause for wor­ries among the pub­lic in many EU mem­ber states (Swe­den, Esto­nia, Spain, Roma­nia), there is a rel­a­tive­ly high pub­lic sup­port for the cur­rent polit­i­cal approach (Slo­va­kia, Poland). In Italy and Spain the pop­u­la­tion is report­ed to be more scep­ti­cal about the sanctions.

Over­all, it seems that the authors of the indi­vid­ual coun­try reports are well aware of posi­tions in oth­er mem­ber states. In the dif­fer­ent mem­ber states a very sim­i­lar approach to the top­ic and per­haps even a Euro­pean con­ver­gence in the opin­ion on this top­ic can be observed.


  • How do the events in Ukraine affect the views in your country on EU relations with Eastern Partnership countries?


“Quest for a del­i­cate balance”

In prin­ci­ple the polit­i­cal majori­ties in the mem­ber states sup­port East­ern Part­ner­ship. How­ev­er it is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a for­eign pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ty for every mem­ber state or for their pub­lic debate, excep­tions being Poland, Slo­va­kia and Slove­nia. This has not nec­es­sar­i­ly changed due to the events in Ukraine, even if more atten­tion is paid to that coun­try and the events tak­ing place there (Hun­gary) and despite the bilat­er­al ties of many mem­ber states with Ukraine being strength­ened (Latvia, Lithua­nia). Over­all, the East­ern Part­ner­ship is seen as an impor­tant part­ner­ship that is how­ev­er affect­ed by cer­tain flaws. Some see it through the prism of EU-Rus­sia rela­tions (Fin­land, Italy) or as a form to strength­en Euro­pean inde­pen­dence from Rus­sia (Esto­nia, Latvia, Nether­lands). This stands in strong rela­tion to the opin­ion that the east Euro­pean and south­ern Cau­ca­sus coun­tries should be free to chose their insti­tu­tion­al affil­i­a­tions (Swe­den). With respect to this, a uni­son con­dem­na­tion of annex­a­tion of Crimea can be observed in many coun­try reports. Only a minor­i­ty of the reports show sup­port for a mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive for (some of) the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries (Poland, Lithua­nia, Slo­va­kia, Roma­nia), oth­ers are explic­it­ly wary of rais­ing such a per­spec­tive (Fin­land).

Some coun­try reports stress the need for the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy (ENP) to focus more on Mediter­ranean coun­tries includ­ing Turkey (Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Spain). Spain, Italy, Greece, Por­tu­gal, Slove­nia and France con­sid­er that there should remain a sin­gle ENP pol­i­cy for both east­ern and south­ern dimensions.

There are no indi­ca­tions that there are large dis­crep­an­cies between the offi­cial gov­ern­ment lines and the pub­lic opin­ion on this ques­tion. In Lithua­nia there is a call to the EU from both the pub­lic at large and polit­i­cal elites to focus more on the East­ern Part­ner­ship region. From the Unit­ed King­dom it was report­ed that among the gen­er­al pub­lic there is lit­tle aware­ness of the East­ern Part­ner­ship con­cept and a grow­ing hos­til­i­ty towards fur­ther EU enlarge­ment. In the Nether­lands there is scep­ti­cism among the pop­u­la­tion about the abil­i­ty of ENP coun­tries to car­ry out reforms and there is a gen­er­al aver­sion to fur­ther enlargement.


  • How was the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga on 21/22 May 2015 assessed in your country?


In many coun­tries the East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Riga received very lim­it­ed press cov­er­age (Esto­nia, Italy, Unit­ed King­dom, Aus­tria, Greece), espe­cial­ly when com­pared to the Vil­nius Sum­mit (the Nether­lands and Romania).

By some accounts (Poland and Lithua­nia), the lack of new steps was due to a loss of inter­est by EU mem­ber states and their lead­ers in the East­ern Part­ner­ship project. Oth­ers (the Nether­lands, Spain, Croa­t­ia) con­sid­ered that progress was ham­pered because of the dif­fi­cul­ty to bal­ance appeas­ing Rus­sia and pleas­ing the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood part­ner coun­tries. The lim­it­ed inter­nal reforms car­ried through in the coun­tries in ques­tion were also hailed as a stum­bling block for increased coop­er­a­tion by some (Cyprus and Lithua­nia). It is strik­ing to see that in the analy­sis of the out­come of the Sum­mit the dif­fer­ence of inter­ests among EU mem­ber states was cit­ed as a cause for min­i­mal results, often even explic­it­ly by gov­ern­ment sources. In Lux­em­bourg the Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs, who con­sid­ers the divid­ing lines between the mem­ber states to be rigid, pleads in favour of a nation­al approach on the EU’s East­ern Neigh­bours (‘each mem­ber state should have the right to deter­mine one’s own opin­ion on the matter’).

While the expec­ta­tions on the Riga Sum­mit were low from the out­set in some coun­tries (Cyprus, Spain), the cov­er­age in oth­er coun­tries stressed that the EU has failed to deliv­er (Fin­land, Aus­tria, Slove­nia). In some coun­tries there was dis­ap­point­ment at the lack of a clear start­ing date for visa free trav­el for Ukraine and Geor­gia (Esto­nia and Hun­gary). In Hun­gary the sup­port for visa free trav­el for Ukraine was direct­ly linked to the sit­u­a­tion of Hun­gar­i­ans liv­ing in Ukraine. In many coun­tries on the EU’s east­ern bor­der, frus­tra­tion was felt about the lack of an EU mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive for the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. In Slo­va­kia it was specif­i­cal­ly report­ed that this lack of mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive was con­sid­ered at odds with the asser­tion that the part­ner coun­tries will see their lev­el of ambi­tion reflect­ed in their rela­tions with the Union.

This dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion between the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries was viewed very pos­i­tive­ly in some oth­er coun­tries (Fin­land, Den­mark, the Nether­lands, Slo­va­kia). By some this was seen as a change of pol­i­cy and a clear direc­tion for the future of the EU’s pol­i­cy towards its East­ern Neigh­bours. Oth­er coun­tries like Ger­many, still feel that after the Riga Sum­mit that there is a need for reform of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy as it has reached its lim­its in the cur­rent form.

The explic­it sep­a­ra­tion between the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy and the EU enlarge­ment pol­i­cy was regard­ed pos­i­tive­ly by Fin­land, Lux­em­bourg, the Nether­lands and Cyprus. As two of the ini­tia­tors of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy, Poland and Swe­den regard­ed the out­come of the sum­mit as a reaf­fir­ma­tion by the EU and the six part­ner coun­tries of their sup­port for the project of Euro­pean reforms and Euro­pean integration.


  • Does the EU need its own army in order to face up to Russia and other threats according to assessments in your country?


Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Junck­er said in an inter­view on 8 March 2015 that the EU need­ed its own mil­i­tary in order to deal with the Russ­ian threat, as well as to restore the bloc’s stand­ing around the world. The idea received mixed respons­es across the Euro­pean Union. Some coun­tries did not share Juncker’s assess­ment that Rus­sia is to be con­sid­ered as cred­i­ble mil­i­tary threat (Italy, Greece and Cyprus). In Cyprus the view is con­verse­ly that the EU should col­lab­o­rate with Rus­sia on mit­i­gat­ing region­al and inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty threats. In the three Baltic coun­tries how­ev­er, the Russ­ian threat was con­sid­ered very immi­nent. Sev­er­al coun­tries have been report­ed to increase their defence bud­gets (Lithua­nia, Latvia and the Nether­lands). Also in some coun­tries defence poli­cies are being recon­sid­ered in light of the changed secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in Europe (for instance in the Netherlands).

Sev­er­al coun­tries were posi­tioned as tra­di­tion­al sup­port­ers of the Com­mon Defence and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy and with an inter­est to devel­op the pol­i­cy area fur­ther at Euro­pean lev­el (Lux­em­bourg, Fin­land, the Nether­lands, Italy). The idea of a Euro­pean army was how­ev­er con­sid­ered unre­al­is­tic (Finnish and Eston­ian gov­ern­ment, Lithua­nia, Swe­den, Spain). Some coun­tries regard the strate­gic inter­ests of the mem­ber states as too diverse to ever con­sid­er a Euro­pean army (Greece and Latvia), while oth­ers deemed it a bridge too far as long as mem­ber states’ poli­cies are not clos­er aligned in the form of a real Polit­i­cal Union (Lithua­nia, Poland) or Defence Union (Spain).

There were a con­sid­er­able num­ber of coun­tries that stressed their strong pref­er­ence for secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion via NATO and who con­sid­ered NATO the rel­e­vant play­er in the field (Eston­ian gov­ern­ment, Hun­gary, Lithua­nia, Slo­va­kia, Swe­den, Roma­nia, Poland and Croa­t­ian media). In Poland for instance, the soci­ety is divid­ed over the idea of an EU army. Oppo­nents  argue that NATO is suf­fi­cient, though it should be mod­ern­ized and adjust­ed to the cur­rent real­i­ties. Oth­ers do see an EU army as an answer to the cur­rent unsta­ble sit­u­a­tion in EU’s East­ern and South­ern neigh­bour­hood. Such an army would not replace nation­al or NATO forces but sup­ple­ment them. The idea that an EU army should not ham­per NATO’s stand­ing was shared among many coun­tries (includ­ing Cyprus, Italy and Spain).

From some oth­er play­ers, the pro­pos­al received a more pos­i­tive reac­tion. In Ger­many for instance, the defence min­is­ter con­sid­ered it a viable idea in the future, but not a use­ful tool for deal­ing with Rus­sia. Also the Ger­man Chair­man of the Bun­destag Com­mit­tee on For­eign Affairs believes time has arrived for a Euro­pean army, based on the idea that this will be mil­i­tary more effec­tive than the cur­rent small­er nation­al armies. In Aus­tria, the Con­ser­v­a­tive Aus­tri­an Peo­ple’s Par­ty also envis­ages a Euro­pean army as a long-term goal, but not as a reac­tion to the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine. In Lux­em­bourg, the gov­ern­ment also con­sid­ers a joint Euro­pean army a wel­come idea to improve mil­i­tary effi­cien­cy and reduce defence costs, but fea­si­ble only as a very long-term project. Oth­er coun­tries see Juncker’s pro­pos­al as a scheme for deep­er inte­gra­tion and regard the idea crit­i­cal­ly (Unit­ed King­dom, Hun­gary and Den­mark). Den­mark proves an inter­est­ing case, as the Danes have an opt-out of all defence-relat­ed aspects of CFSP, the opt-out was based on the fear that the EU would grad­u­al­ly devel­op an EU army that would then under­mine NATO. The idea of an EU army is also heav­i­ly con­test­ed across Dan­ish society.



Co-fund­ed by the Europe for Cit­i­zens Pro­gramme of the Euro­pean Union

This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.