Dr. Katrin Böttger (Institute for European Politics, Berlin)

18.03.2010 - Interview conducted by Tyler Thompson

How important is intercultural dialogue in establishing a European Neighborhood Policy?

Intercultural dialogue is an important prerequisite for the whole European integration process. When dealing with countries it is important to consider the way you are communicating with one another in order to establish an equal dialogue. Communication is often problematic with the European Union Neighbor Policy. Take Ukraine for example. Ukraine was quite offended by the fact that they were grouped together with the Mediterranean states. It shows that there are in-sensitivities regarding a countries cultural background that are not taken into consideration as much as they should be.

During your speech you mentioned the dialogue that had taken place between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia. You testified that despite all the communication that had taken place and the many windows of opportunity that were presented; in the end no progress was made. What is missing in international dialogue that is keeping nations from reaching real concrete goals?

This is a simple one, trust. What is missing is the general understanding that when making a compromise one will not cheat the other. This is a cultural question but not in the way it is often eluted to because of the eastern culture not having this attitude, but it is because they have had so many bad experiences which leads to the general distrust between the countries. Trust in any relationship is the most important but also the most difficult. Take Poland and Germany for example, there have been resent issues with the governments but people never got too excited about it. There were diplomatic hidings, but very non-violent, so these disagreements never affected the whole process. How did Germany change its outlook on France? It was the Second World War, and that is not something you want to recreate, but it’s putting the past into the relationship again.

With all the different cultures making up the EU, and the unique relationship each country has with one another. Is it realistic to think that the EU will come up with one solid coherent and unified voice towards a common security policy or a neighborhood policy towards neighboring countries outside of the EU?

It is not impossible. A lot of the interests are common, but it’s difficult to come to a common understanding. Take Germany for example with its diverse voices but in the end they have to deal with it because what matters at this point is what a nation says. It will not take that much longer to come to a solution where people are not asking the French or the Germans but rather the EU, because these problems can’t be dealt with on a national level anymore. The Iraq war was an example where cooperation didn’t work out, but this is the exception to the rule. Normally it works out that the EU is coming to a common position.

Is it realistic to see Ukraine as a possible EU member in the future, taking their history with Russia into account as well as their geographical position? 

It is not probable in the near future but no one would have thought in 1986 that Poland would join the EU a few years later, so we need to be more open, but its a matter of sequence because there are geographical issues that need to be dealt with between Russia and the Ukraine, just like there were issues between Russia and Lithuania and Russia and Poland, but they were dealt with. It is not realistic that the Ukraine will join the EU in five years. It will take time.