Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2008

What Is New About Today's EU-Russia Border?

Vadim Kononenko

September 2004

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


On May 1st 2004, the EU reshaped its eastern borders by taking on board ten new member states. Among the many neighbours the EU meets across its enlarged borders, Russia occupies a very specific place. With all the talk about the emerging new EU neighbourhood, one may find it paradoxical that Russia is regarded as one of these new neighbours. There seems to be nothing new about Russia and the EU being neighbours, as they have had a common border for nine years already, since the accession of Finland to the EU in 1995. In this regard, the border that emerged in 2004 can be seen as simply a continuation of the existing 1300-km borderland in the north and as a result of the long-planned accession of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to the European Union. Added to this is the notion that, for all these countries, the existence of a border with Russia had become a reality more than a decade ago, after every legal and political tie with the dissolving Soviet Union had forever been severed. Later, as preparations for these countries to join the Union got underway, they, in order to comply with the EU’s Copenhagen criteria for the new applicants, were to transform their external borders and policies according to the EU’s Schengen acquis.

Yet it can be argued that the eastern EU-Russian border should not be regarded simply as an extension of the existing one, as there are several factors that suggest a change. First and foremost, on the EU side, the border is still in the making. By nature, the ‘historic’ eastern enlargement of 2004 was not a linear process but rather piecemeal and incremental. In many respects it is still waiting to be finalized. Some of the organizing policy instruments that make the emerged border a full-fledged EU external border are yet to be implemented, and not before the EU is ready to open its internal borders and lift all the restrictions for the new members. Further, according to the Commission’s plan, the design of various EU policy instruments of cross-border cooperation and assistance, such as INTERREG, Tacis-CBC and PHARE, will be re-shaped and a New Neighbourhood Instrument (NNI) will be put in place from 2007 onwards.