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Moscow Should Feel the Impact of Lisbon Treaty

On Wednesday, the Lisbon Treaty enters into force, and many Russian diplomats and analysts are asking what will change in EU-Russia relations?

The short answer is not much, at least in the immediate future. The reason why Herman Van Rompuy was chosen as president of the Eurupean Council, the highest political body of the EU, and why Catherine Ashton was chosen as the EU’s high representative for foreign and security policy was that the member states wanted two low-key, consensus builders in these positions. They did not want strong personalities such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stealing their thunder.

 Ashton will have a far heavier workload and travel schedule than Van Rumpuy. She will chair meetings of EU foreign ministers, take part in summits, political dialogue meetings and speak for the EU at international conferences. In addition, she will be a vice president of the European Commission, the body responsible for proposing EU legislation and implementing its decisions.

 The EU’s chief negotiator for the new EU-Russia agreement, Joao de Almeida, will report both to Ashton and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Moscow will still have to deal with a number of interlocutors in Brussels and in EU capitals. There will be no single telephone number. But the transformation of the European Commission delegation in Moscow (and other capitals) into an EU mission will, in time, also have an impact on diplomatic relations.

One other change that could have an impact on Russia is the increased role of the European Parliament, which now has the right to approve all agreements with third countries.

The parliament’s position is complicated by the large number of smaller parties and independents that gained seats in the 2008 elections. Russia should pay more attention to the parliament.

The Lisbon Treaty marks an important step forward for the EU. It is the fifth new treaty in 22 years. Given the struggle to secure its ratification, it is likely to be the last for at least the next decade.

It is another sign of how the EU gradually progresses — not through any great leap forward, but by shuffling forward in an ungainly convoy. It may not be easy to understand, but it reflects the current level of ambition of the member states.

Its impact, therefore, will be felt gradually by Russia and other strategic partners of the EU.

Fraser Cameron is director of the EU-Russia Centre in Brussels and a former adviser to the European Commission.

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