The Euro­pean Union at 60— A Re­li­able Part­ner

The Moscow Times - - LOOKING BACK -

This week Euro­pean peo­ple come to­gether to cel­e­brate 60 years of our con­ti­nent’s great­est peace­time project: the Euro­pean Union. On March 25 1957, our Found­ing Fathers signed the Treaty of Rome — an act that res­o­lutely put an end to the trend of dev­as­tat­ing wars be­tween neigh­bours on our con­ti­nent. Fun­da­men­tally a peo­ple’s project, Euro­peans pledged “farewell to arms” and “never again war.”

As Pres­i­dent Juncker stated, “we are the heirs of those who first es­tab­lished Europe, of those men and women who in 1945 re­turned from the front and the con­cen­tra­tion camps to towns and vil­lages which had been de­stroyed.” Putting be­hind them an­i­mosi­ties among neigh­bours and rec­on­cil­ing the feel­ing of na­tional iden­tity with a com­mit­ment to the com­mon good, Euro­peans vowed to work to­ward a vi­sion of a peace­ful, united and pros­per­ous Europe.

And to­day, 60 years later, the vi­sion re­mains alive and we can be proud of our achieve­ments. Europe has turned from a con­ti­nent of war to a con­ti­nent of peace. This project has brought to­gether 28 Euro­pean states, more than 500 mil­lion peo­ple speak­ing 24 lan­guages in one union, the Euro­pean Union.

The EU to­day sym­bol­izes peace­ful co­op­er­a­tion, re­spect for hu­man dig­nity, lib­erty, democ­racy, equal­ity and sol­i­dar­ity among Euro­pean na­tions and peo­ples. It is the largest trade power and de­vel­op­ment and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid donor. The world’s largest sin­gle mar­ket and the euro is the sec­ond most im­por­tant global re­serve cur­rency. It is home to the largest union of democ­ra­cies in the world. Our cit­i­zens are free to live, work and re­tire any­where in Europe. It is at the cut­ting edge of in­no­va­tion. EU mem­ber­ship has re­sulted in in­creased and shared pros­per­ity.

This makes us a strong part­ner when we all to­gether need to adapt and to face the new chal­lenges of the world: ef­fects of rapid glob­al­iza­tion, con­tin­ued armed con­flict and the rise of ter­ror, poverty and mi­gra­tion, a de­grad­ing en­vi­ron­ment and re­source de­ple­tion.

Re­gret­tably, the term “chal­lenge” is also used nowa­days to de­scribe the state of EU-Rus­sia ties. As spelled out in the EU Global Strat­egy, “man­ag­ing the re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia rep­re­sents a key strate­gic chal­lenge for the Euro­pean Union.” For the last cou­ple of decades, the EU and Rus­sia had as­sumed a strate­gic part­ner­ship based on the con­ver­gence of values, eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion and mod­erni­sa­tion of our so­ci­eties. Our agenda was pos­i­tive and am­bi­tious.

How­ever, our part­ner­ship faced a break­point in 2014 with the il­le­gal an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and the destabilization in East­ern Ukraine. From that point for­ward and to­day, it is clear that Rus­sia and the EU have some deep dif­fer­ences: they re­late to the Euro­pean se­cu­rity or­der, prin­ci­ples of plu­ral­ism and hu­man rights, the need for an open mar­ket econ­omy and a rules-based trad­ing sys­tem.

At the same time, Rus­sia and the EU re­main strate­gi­cally im­por­tant to each other. The EU re­mains the largest trad­ing part­ner for Rus­sia, while Rus­sia is the EU’s fourth largest.

We also have a num­ber of shared con­cerns, such as the threat of ter­ror­ism, cli­mate change and the sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East. The suc­cess of the joint ef­forts to reach a nu­clear deal with Iran demon­strates that we can co­op­er­ate in the in­ter­na­tional arena.

The EU also con­tin­ues to un­der­take sub­stan­tial and sig­nif­i­cant steps that pro­vide a di­rect im­pe­tus to strength­en­ing peo­ple to peo­ple con­tacts. From co­op­er­a­tion across our com­mon border through stu­dent ex­changes to sup­port for civil so­ci­ety — those are the ef­forts that form the real glue be­tween our peo­ples.

As we look to the next sixty years, we Euro­peans must re­al­ize that we have the fu­ture of our union in our own hands. We must strive to re­main united be­cause in unity lies our strength. Our 60 years of ex­pe­ri­ence since the sign­ing of the Rome Treaty shows that a united EU is ca­pa­ble of strength­en­ing and ex­tend­ing the well­be­ing of our peo­ple. And a united EU will be a strong and re­li­able part­ner to coun­tries around the world, in­clud­ing Rus­sia.

Nev­er­the­less, we must rec­og­nize that it is dif­fi­cult to fore­see rap­proche­ment in our dif­fer­ences in the near fu­ture. The EU must there­fore strive to en­gage Rus­sia where pos­si­ble and speak out when our views clash as we are too im­por­tant to one an­other. But we must also un­der­line that any en­gage­ment is firmly based on the grounds of the in­ter­na­tional rules-based sys­tem and its prin­ci­ples and values.

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