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Gütersloh, 16/12/2011

Russia Needs More Competition!

A commentary by our expert on Eastern Europe, Cornelius Ochmann

Flags of Russia
Quelle: brandXpictures, Steve Allen

Will the fate of European-Russian relations be decided on the streets and in the election booths of Moscow? Cornelius Ochmann, the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Eastern European expert, analyzes events in Russia, warning Europe not to view the country solely from an economic perspective.

At the beginning of the 28th EU-Russian Summit, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev was received by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. It was not an easy meeting for Medvedev, who has been overshadowed by the country’s prime minister and derided by thousands of demonstrators following fraudulent parliamentary elections. The accusations of fraud are very much impacting the summit, and even though protests resulting from the elections are not officially on the agenda, they are being discussed by the participants all the same, according to EU sources.  

Another event, expected in the next few days, will be discussed as well: Russia’s signing an agreement to become a member of the WTO, after 18 years of negotiations. The country’s accession is considered a precursor to finally concluding negotiations, which have repeatedly stalled since 2008, for a new, in-depth cooperative agreement between the EU and Russia.

At the same time, criticism in the German business community of Russia is increasing. "The country needs more competition in both the political and economic realms,” Rainer Lindner, executive director of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, said recently. “Bureaucracy has to be reduced and the country’s midsized firms, a segment that has been growing slowly, must be given more room to breathe."

Members of that economic segment were precisely the ones who took to the streets after the Russian elections, demanding that the manipulated results be annulled. On the evening before the EU-Russian summit, the European Parliament was still debating the state of European-Russian relations, and it supported the demonstrators’ demands. The parliament’s representatives then passed a resolution strongly criticizing the manner in which security forces treated the peaceful demonstrators.

Following the Arab Spring to Europe’s south, the EU must now also be present in the East as a community of shared values. Pursuing shared economic interests alone will not suffice. Even though a large majority of Russians do not believe the euro has a future, they still support European values. The EU-Russian summit will show whether the EU is truly a community of shared values and not just one of shared economic interests.

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