Is the EAEU following the EU or an attempt to restructure the former Soviet interest sphere?

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Nation states, regional cooperation and mutual interdependence


The international political and economic alliances are essential parts of the globalisation process that have spanned all world regions. Nowadays – even if there is a general need for nation states to maintain the balance of interests of supranational organisations and those who make them up – states alone may face hardships in interest advocacy. Russia’s war in Ukraine shows the role of a nation state in the globalized environment along with the significance of integration models and their coordinated actions. The war between Russia and Ukraine involved relevant alliances (e.g. EU, NATO, UN, EAEU) on both sides. International organisations entered the war indirectly by supporting one or other party with equipment, coordinated sanctions and other coercive measures. Therefore, they create international, sometimes supranational groups to advocate their common interests and defend them from other interest groups. When World War II ended, the Western European states decided to ally and establish the legal predecessor of the European Union. Of course, maintaining the (Western European) peace was a fairy-tale incentive for the cooperation. However, it was a very pragmatic step towards survival: existing between two „empires” (USA, Soviet Union) just at the dawn of the Cold War was a strong de facto trigger for recognising the mutual interdependence and the general need for – at least economic – collaboration. In addition, the strengthening of Western Europe was the interest of the USA, too. Otherwise, the Soviets would have taken all Europe. The USA therefore triggered economic booster in Western Europe by adopting the Marshall Plan, and military alliance by establishing the NATO.  In the meanwhile, the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Warsaw for military cooperation and the Comecon  for economic one. International alliances – even if their modus operandi was based on different style of leadership – mattered, especially after the World Wars when nation states alone were not capable to rebuild and protect themselves.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the constituent elements and the states belonging to its sphere of interest became free (or liberalised). The rest of the formerly socialist countries who regained their independence and sovereignty (including the Baltic states, the V4 countries, Bulgaria and Romania) voluntarily joined to international allies, such as NATO, United Nations (UN), and the European Union in order to participate with equal terms in the intergovernmental environment. Ukraine was not that lucky. The country’s location and direct border with Russia always made their international role hard, even if their intentions were clear. Ukraine – since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 – continuously tries to get closer to the West. (Except for the short period, when Putin’s kind of puppet government held the power which was replaced by Zelendsky’s government. The former intentions and empirical aspirations harden the situation as Russia is not respecting the sovereignty and independence of its’ former allies. Even if the alliance withtin the Soviet Union was a coercive one based on oppression and in some countries the annexation of nation states. That was never a voluntary cooperation among independent states. It was much more like a ideology based colonization of smaller and weaker states. Thus, the reference to former interest spheres is legally absurd and nonsense.

In the last couple of years, new centers of geopolitical and geo-economic cooperation have appeared worldwide. In the post-Soviet space, the first attempts to create equal regional cooperation arose. The first was the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Later CIS countries have chosen to transform the integration based on the EU-model. Because the EU is considered as one of the most developed regional integration blocs, the model seemed to be worth copying. The idea and approaches of multilevel, multi-speed integration, borrowed straight from the EU lexicon and experience, proved equally useful for the Eurasian integration. A breakthrough in the Eurasian regional integration was achieved in 2006 by establishing a EurAsEC Customs Union by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus as its founding members. The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was established in 2015 by the Eurasian Treaty of Economic Union as a political-economic integration with common markets and coordinated policies between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia. The EAEU – similarly to the EU – has a legal personality, and the Treaty provides for the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor . The Treaty also intends to approximate a uniform policy in the economic sectors. The EAEU is an example for regional economic integration in Northern Eurasia . The main factors of the establishment of the EAEU are economic and geopolitical considerations. The creation of the post-Soviet regional cooperation was mostly driven by Russia incorporating this into its regionalist stage of foreign policy. According to some critics, the EAEU’s creation is an attempt to polarise the World by Russia. These critics affirm that the EAEU may become a counterbalance to the EU in the West and China in the East. The EAEU seeks to limit and restrict the Chinese economic influence and penetration in the Central Asian markets. Moreover, copying the well-functioning elements from the EU integration project may guarantee successful cooperation in the East, because the EAEU can use those elements that function well in the EU and skip others. The EAEU attempts to establish an institutionalised legal regime with binding effects supported by a dispute resolution mechanism. The functioning is based on transferred competence and the principle of supranationalism.


Similarities and differences of the EU and the EAEU integration paths from an institutional point of view

The differences between the EU and the EAEU could be grabbed in the main constitutional, economic, geographic, and social features of the countries involved.

The EAEU consists of five states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Russian Federation. While the EU – due to the withdrawal of the UK – has 27 Member States. The population of the EU is nearly 450 million persons (it was approx. 500 million before the Brexit), and the EAEU has approx. 184 million citizens. While the EU’s territory is 4,236,351 square kilometers , the Eurasian Economic Union covers over 20,000,000 square kilometers . A significant fact for our comparison is that the EAEU has a territory five size bigger than the EU while has a population that is approx. 40% of the EU’s one. This proportion influences the role and situation of the constituting Member States. Therefore, we also have to consider the size of each Member State. We can conclude that the EU (after the Brexit) has two dominant Member States, namely Germany and France, and has several medium-sized and smaller Member States, while the EAEU has the Russian Federation as a dominant state owning the approx. 85% of the territory (17,098,246 km2) and four smaller countries. It is also important that the Russian Federation’s territory is itself more than three-times bigger than the whole EU. Regarding the population of the EAEU, we can conclude that from the 184 million citizens the Russian Federation has approx. 147 million (EAEU 2021). Size matters in this sense. The larger the state is, the more its opportunities are in several fields (military forces, industry, sports, science, etc.).

There are several similarities between these two integration forms in economic and political sense, because both were firstly formed on the basis of economic coercion. Political ambitions were less visible in the beginning than economic interests. The historical background strongly determines the contracting states’ engagement, which could be very various. We can see that in the EU, several Member States are engaged in pushing forward the integration towards a federal state direction, while other members instead participate in intergovernmental cooperation with multispeed policies and opt-out systems. There are also some differences in the societies of Europe regarding their attitude towards integration depending on their level of nationalism and their current political intentions.

The EAEU sought to base its model on the EU. According to the EAEU Treaty, the EAEU is a regional project with pure economic strategies. In this respect, the Eurasian integration precedes the European Economic Community (EEC) Treaty, signed in Rome in 1957. The EAEU – similarly to the ancestors of the EU – completed all the necessary phases of integration in order to become a Union. It completed to become an area of free trade, provide for a union regarding the customs and become a common market, then, an economic union. However, the EAEU has not become a monetary union yet.

The Eurasian Economic Union was determined by the “Troika” (Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia) that still form the “nucleus” of the integration association, signed the Customs Union Treaty in 1995. That instrument was designed to remove barriers hampering free economic interactions between economic agents, to facilitate the free exchange of goods, and to assure good-faith competition. The next step of the integration was the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) established in 2000. Thus, the Customs Union’s Commission became technically a EurAsEC body, which encompasses a common customs territory, legislation, common customs tariff, non-tariff regulation measures, and common procedures for customs clearance and control. Later, the EurAsEC was officially dissolved on 1 January 2015, concurrently with the Eurasian Economic Union’s establishment. From a cooperative point of view, the emergence and development of the EAEU seem to be faster than the EU’s integration steps. One reason of such development is the fact that the EAEU had an example to follow, namely, the EU, while the EU had no existing model to “copy”. Secondly, the Soviet Union was collapsed in 1991, and former republics of the federal socialist state in Northern Eurasia needed a new net of economic cooperation that fit the age and enables participation in the global market competition .

The whole institutional make-up of the proposed EAEU is built on the EU model . The Treaty declares that the “Bodies of the Union shall act within the powers accorded to them by this [EAEU] Treaty and international treaties within the Union”. Compared to the EU, the EAEU is governed by international agreements signed by its Member States; thus, it is more similar to an international organisation than the EU. Article 8 of the EAEU Treaty names the four institutional bodies of EAEU: Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (the Supreme Council); Eurasian Intergovernmental Council (the Intergovernmental Council); Eurasian Economic Commission (the Commission, the EEC); Court of the Eurasian Economic Union (the Court of the EAEU).

The institutional system resembles some parts of the EU’s institutions, but there are significant differences. In the following, we summarise the main features and functions of the EAEU institutions:

Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) is located in Moscow, The Council of the Commission, Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (The Supreme Council), Eurasian Intergovernmental Council, The Court of the Eurasian Economic Union.


Concluding remarks

We conclude that the EAEU and the EU have similarities in forming supranational organisations in a multicultural environment. The EU is very special among the international organisations due to its above-mentioned sui generis features and the social, cultural and historical heritage that formed its constitutional and legal characteristics.

Our conclusions are the following:

1). The EU may serve as a good example of multilateral and multilevel cooperation mixing supranational and intergovernmental elements.

2). The EU defines the equality of the Member States.

3). The circumstances and intention of the establishment of the EU and EAEU are much different (regardless of the common economic pressure).

4). Economically, establishing a Customs Union is similar to a common trade zone for the Member States.

5). In the last seven decades, the crises (oil, economic, migration, COVID-19, etc.) took the EU to the test of survival. Some competence became more supranational, while other issues were better solved on national or regional levels.

6). The EU is functioning on the grounds of a principle-led legal environment, in which the respect for diversity and the promotion of the respect of human rights all over the world, is unquestionable. The EAEU’s Member States are contracting parties of international human rights’ conventions; however, the integration is less motivated in spreading the world in third countries.

7). The two integration forms are much different from each other regarding the social factor.

8). Technologically and environmentally, both integrations have ambitions but differently.

9). We often hear from politicians that the strategic aim is  “the EU open to the world”. This defines the geopolitical ambition of the EU to take global leadership in several dimensions.

However, the diversity of the nations and languages, the constitutional systems and legal regimes, and the integration attitude are generators of tensions and future conflicts within the integration. Especially, until the balance of the institutions and the Member States are not defined clearly. Thus, it is expected to experience further tensions within the EAEU unless the Russian dominance is weighted or consolidated. The cooperation and integration process shall be based on a mutual wish and not on potential. Therefore, the copy-and-paste of the EU model in Eurasia in the same way is neither possible nor recommended. In our opinion, the EAEU is only partially following the EU’s path: even if the processes are similar, the results are different, because the main determinators are not equal.

Dr. jur. Balázs SZABÓ Ph.D. started his studies in 2005 at the Faculty of Law, in the University of Miskolc. During his university years, he successfully completed the training of English law translators organized by the Foreign Language Education Center. He has an advanced English language exam and an intermediate German language exam.
He received his Cum laude degree and the ,,Bertalan Szemere Commemorative medal” in June, 2010 in recognition of his excellent academic achievements. After graduating, he was admitted to the Ferenc Deák Doctoral School of Political Science and Law. Since 2016, he has been a member of the Pro Iure Association and the organizer and presenter of several international conferences. From 2021 he is a member of the Central and Eastern European Association of Public Administration. He is currently employed as an associate professor at the Department of Administrative Law, Faculty of Law, University of Miskolc. As a consultant, he has already supported several students interested in administrative law in the faculty TDK competition.

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