Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Russia’s integration into greater Europe needs commitment

By Igor Ivanov

However, curtailing social programs in both Europe and Russia would jeopardize human capital, their most valuable comparative advantage. By enhancing the welfare state’s efficiency, economic progress can occur without sacrificing this crucial source of long-term growth.

Given their strong traditions of building human capital — and their motivation to continue to do so — Russia and Europe have much to offer one another. By focusing on the areas in which their modernization agendas overlap — from education to public health to environmental protection — they can identify ways to increase their human capital’s efficiency.

While Europeans have reason to criticize Russia’s shortcomings, they should also recognize that only two decades ago, Russia’s political, economic, social and legal systems underwent a fundamental shift which significantly affected its people’s psychology, self-perception and behavior. Given Europeans’ complicated experience with EU enlargement they should understand the challenges that accompany such a profound change.

With this understanding should come recognition that Europe’s current policy of demanding that Russia “mature” as a condition for cooperation is counterproductive. Russia will mature much more slowly in isolation than it will if it is integrated into European institutions.

Some progress has already been made. For example, participating in the Council of Europe has helped Russia to significantly improve its prison system. Likewise, launching initial public offerings on European stock exchanges has strengthened Russian corporations’ governance, social responsibility and treatment of minority shareholders. In short, more interaction, not less, should be actively encouraged.

Of course, Russia will probably not become a full NATO member in the foreseeable future, owing to the many structural, technical and psychological obstacles blocking its path. However, political integration is feasible. Greater political cooperation would provide a context for discussing issues like the future of Afghanistan, international terrorism and nuclear proliferation, as well as for creating joint initiatives and strategies that address crucial issues affecting both powers.

The institutional integration of Russia into greater Europe will require strong commitment from both sides. However, in this globalized century, it is the only option.

Igor Ivanov, Russia’s former foreign minister, is president of the Russian International Affairs Council.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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