Policy Memos

On a Collision Course: The EU and Russia Revisit Europe's Recent Past

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Recent studies have pointed to a fundamental transformation of the way in which the European Union imagines itself and establishes legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens and external audience. Since its inception in the aftermath of the Second World War, the cornerstone of the European integration project was the idea of redemption (i.e., that we integrate because we do not want our past to repeat itself). Now, the EU’s identity is increasingly based on a feeling of moral superiority and the resulting desire to expand its own normative order past its current boundaries (i.e., we are better than our neighbors and we want them to be, for security reasons, like us). After summarizing recent findings on EU identity, I focus on the consequences of this transformation for EU-Russia relations. I argue that the new assertiveness of the EU puts it on a collision course with Russia. In particular, Russia has recently come to reappropriate its Soviet history in a way that jars with Europeans’ now settled views of their own past. Far from being just about “images,” this conflict has already had an effect on many aspects of international relations in wider Europe. The U.S. foreign policy community should at least be aware of the reality of this controversy. The United States could also try to engage in a dialogue with Europeans by, inter alia, bringing in its own historical experience, even though this could prove to be painful for Americans themselves. [...]

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About the author

Professor, EU–Russia Studies
University of Tartu, Estonia