Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lellouche Calls for EU National Guard, Belies Economic Backstory with Russia

In the wake of Russia's devastating forest fires, Pierre Lellouche, French minister for the EU, called this week for an EU-wide "crisis response force" to better deal with potential catastrophes. This begs a comparison to the National Guard, as the most similar body is known in the United States. 

The minister cited the Haiti earthquake disaster and last summer's fires in Greece as proof of the necessity in creating a federal EU crisis response detail to handle natural and other disasters as they erupt. (...)

Just don't expect Lellouche, the notorious opponent to EU succession by Turkey, to mention the earthquakes that roiled parts of that country in 1999 and May 2010.

It is curious to realize that, despite the minister's urgings to create "real mutual assistance capabilities" at "[the] European level," Russia is not in fact an EU member state. Why, one might ask, would France lead an EU-level move to assist the former Soviet Union, when the country is outside the purview of the already-troubled eurozone? In what other areas might Lellouche curry favor in Moscow, and what, if anything, might motivate leaders such as Lellouche to seek it?

Perhaps it's because Russia is in dire need of foreign investment, and willing to cut great deals to get it. The beneficiaries could hail from France and other nations such as Germany and the United States.

From the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum held in the Russian city on June 19th, Time Magazine reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and a host of French business leaders secured an impressive 25 new contracts, estimated at a sum value of $6.1 billion. Sarkozy displayed an oddly strong show of friendly enthusiasm to Russia's President Dimitri Medvedev, at one point making the metaphorical (if geographically dubious) claim that "we [Russia and France] are neighbors."

Such panegyrics belie what are arguably Sarkozy's truer colors -- more economic than geopolitical, more pragmatic than ideological.

US President Barack Obama has made his own overtures to Russia, in part to entice the nation into the WTO -- and in so doing, bind them closer to a US-led governance by international institutions. True to form as an oratory wiz, Obama smooth-talked his way over skepticism in stating that, "twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the U.S.-Russian relationship has to be about more than just security and arms control." He continued, "it has to be about our shared prosperity and what we can build together."

It could also be perceived that France wants a piece of the action previously enjoyed, and dominated, by Germany. The latter country reaps the benefits of a $53.8 billion bilateral trade relationship with Russia. France's slice of the Russian pie, at less than a third of the German figure, is lean by comparison. That France and Germany are jockeying for Russian marketshare only pleases the Kremlin, which looks down on the shuffle like balcony-seat bettors at a dog fight, awarding contracts to the last, disheveled European economic chief standing.

Nor are these Russo-French and -German dealings strictly about trade. Thomas Gomart of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) describes the French desire for greater Russian business as also political, one that encourages Moscow "to further integrate into European and international partnerships and structures."

"The idea is to create positive, productive, even profitable cooperation projects now," Gomart said, "in order to encourage Russia to avoid troublesome behavior in [the] future."

Gomart also described a certain economic policy shift as a "drift toward the East," meaning that eurozone leaders will continue to court -- and likely, compromise with -- Russia today, and in the future.

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