January 15, 2021 18:28

Isolation or integration: Gaidar Forum 2021 discussed the impact of the pandemic on international integration processes

Isolation or integration: Gaidar Forum 2021 discussed the impact of the pandemic on international integration processes

What can strengthen integration processes during a pandemic? What is the role of integration institutions in this process? What experience could be useful in the Eurasian space under current conditions? Participants of the expert discussion "Pandemic and Integration: a Threat or a Stimulus to Development?" discussed the solutions that could contribute to strengthening and developing integration in the Eurasian space during the pandemic.

Tatiana Valovaya, Director of the UN Office in Geneva, Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Chief Editor of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine and Andrey Slepnev, Member of the Board (Minister) for Trade of the Eurasian Economic Commission, took part in the discussion.

The pandemic has become a serious challenge to integration processes both in Eurasia and around the world. Once again, the conceptual question of the feasibility of building integration spaces was raised. On the one hand, criticism and skepticism have increased, while on the other hand, the urgency of improving, strengthening and making integration institutions more effective to counter the pandemic and preserve the achievements of integration has increased.

According to session moderator Tigran Sargsyan, Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Development Bank, one of the main characteristics of the modern age is the speed of change. This speed affects all life spheres. Before the pandemic, it was said that humanity was entering an era of global change due to the fact that scientific and technological progress was changing the way of life and the basic processes of society. The pandemic has forced a rethinking of all the current processes and revealed their strengths and weaknesses. "On the one hand, old forms of business have died, on the other hand, the pandemic has stimulated new digital processes. It made us think about the role of the state. What should a modern state be like? Does it cope with the tasks? Some forms of governance had problems before the pandemic as well. But with the pandemic it became more obvious. More pressing is the question of how willing are states to delegate some of their powers to supranational structures? After all, given the pandemic and the closure of borders, each individual state had to address the issue of protecting the health of its citizens on its own," the expert said.

In turn, Fyodor Lukyanov noted that the integration mechanism works in a situation of a moderate crisis. When the real problem came, it turned out to be natural to rely only on yourself. "We are entering a period when all states will only be interested in joining forces on a specific issue and specifically with those they consider useful in resolving that issue," Lukyanov said.  In his opinion, the spring events showed that the hopes for integration associations in a crisis situation were not justified either at the global or the regional level. "On the other hand, the pandemic has shown that the capabilities of even the strongest nations were limited. This was especially evident in the United States," stressed Fyodor Lukyanov.

He also noted that the pandemic has demonstrated that within the Eurasian integration each of the participants was still "huddling within itself," but there would come a time when the exhaustion of internal resources of each would become apparent, and then there would be a need for institutions. "And now we need to discuss which ones," suggested Research Director of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

Tatiana Valovaya, Director of the UN Office in Geneva, agreed with her colleagues that the world today was living in an era of major transformation. According to her, "It's not just a transformation. This kind of change happens every few centuries." The pandemic has accelerated this transition on the one hand and highlighted the challenges on the other. It has become clear how globally interdependent we all are, how much ties have suffered because of disengagement, how trade and economic treaties have suffered. "Even though we are living in the era of digital economy, almost half of the globe does not have access to the Internet, and that is also a major challenge," said Valovaya. She noted, however, that the functions of states and the need for decision-making levels were also changing. During the pandemic, she said, it proved effective to delegate some powers to the regions.

The expert also suggested that in the nearest future the main measure of economic success will not be GDP growth, but the growth of other social and economic indicators. Valovaya also touched on the theme of global mistrust: "Around the world, we see both distrust of governments in each other and citizens in government. In particular, this happens in the states with stable social democratic systems."

Despite this, according to Valovaya, humanity will look for new forms of unification. "That's what history teaches us. It was after global crises that major transnational alliances emerged," said Director of the UN Office in Geneva.

Andrei Slepnev, Member of the Board (Minister) for Trade of the Eurasian Economic Commission, continued the discussion of the global role of the pandemic. According to him, it was definitely a catalyst. "In March-April there was a moment when the Union (Eurasian Economic Union - ed.) was like a coin turning on its edge. We will either drop to the side where the states must solve all problems independently and the union’s degree of integration might significantly suffer from further actions, or we will show that we can effectively solve the issues collectively and will be able to reach an agreement despite the intense domestic agenda. During April-May the prime ministers met 5 times, the presidents met 2 times, and there were endless consultations. Many agreements have been reached on the movement of citizens, on the supply of personal protective equipment, and so on. We worked, one might say, on the fly, breaking the regulations, and in a sense we made decisions even faster than national governments. The Union has proved that it is a viable organization," Slepnev stressed.

He cited eloquent figures: domestic trade dropped by 11.6% in the first 11 months of last year, while foreign trade dropped by 22.5% in the same period. "Just a comparison of non-resource and non-energy exports: external - minus 8.5%, mutual trade - minus 6.5%, but as regards the mutual trade we see a 3% increase in physical volumes. That is, prices have dropped and physical volumes have increased. This means that the integration is working, the ties are reliable, and we are not becoming isolated," Slepnev said.

As for global trends, the board member of the Eurasian Economic Commission noted that there was a redistribution of influence from financial corporations to technology ones. The state in these conditions needs to have technology platforms and address the issues of maintaining sovereignty through them.

In the face of these challenges, according to Slepnev, states have two choices: integration or rigid mobilization. And the expert sees the future in integration. "Of course, the world is becoming more divided now. Nevertheless, having overcome the virus, it is important to be ready for a joint and inclusive work as part of the coming transformation, maintaining peace and a positive attitude towards integration," concluded Andrey Slepnev.


Photographer: Gavriil Grigorov / TASS

The Gaidar Forum “Russia and the World After the Pandemic” will be held on January 14 and 15 at the Presidential Academy. The Forum will traditionally open the annual business agenda of Russia. In 2021, this large-scale event will be held in a hybrid format, both online and offline.

This time, the main discussion track will be social and economic transformations that have occurred in the country and the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The expert discussions will be focused on the national and global development goals and the search for practical solutions to the most urgent challenges of today. The Forum’s participants include ministers from the Russian Government, members of the Federal Assembly, governors of the Russian regions, largest world experts, representatives of foreign states.

The general partners of the Gaidar Forum are Gazprom PJSC and Gazprombank JSC.

The strategic partners are Russian Railways OJSC, Johnson&Johnson, ACIG Group, Novartis.

The partner of the forum is MasterCard, Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF)

The discussion partners are Magnit, Pepsi, Huawei, Coca-Cola, AstraZeneca, Takeda, EY.

General media partners: TASS, Business FM, RIA Novosti, RBC. Strategic media partners: Interfax, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Kommersant Publishing House, RIA FederalPress, Invest-Foresight magazine. Main media partners: Anews, News.ru, lenta.ru. International media partners: Russia Today.

Media partners: PRO Business TV channel, AEI PRIME, Polit.ru, Strategy magazine, Public Administration magazine, Ekonomika i Zhizn newspaper, Econs portal, Finam, Bankovskoye Obozreniye magazine, Parlamentskaya Gazeta, Snob media project, Echo of Moscow radio station, Nauchno-Obrazovatelnaya Politika Telegram channel.