EU-Russian relations stagnated for long before they came to a crisis in 2014. The past and the present are conceptualised differently in Russia and abroad, which reveals both the information was and a divergence in research agendas. The window of opportunity for the studies of EU and EU-Russian relations is rapidly closing in Russia. This threatens that present difficulties will persist. Therefore, the existing expertise of teaching and researching EU integration and EU-Russian relations should be strengthened.
The objective of this Centre of Excellence “Building Knowledge and Expertise to Overcome the Current Crisis in EU-Russian Relations” is to provide unbiased information on the EU, to reveal the differences in research agendas, and to facilitate the emergence in Russia of a new generation of experts on the EU and EU-Russian relations, able to reboot EU-Russian relations. This project will build on the success of MA ‘European Studies’, Jean Monnet Chair, and of the EU Information Centre.
The Centre of Excellence has teaching and research functions. The teaching activities include:
• Enhanced teaching of EU integration disciplines with open education resources, available on line;
• Updated EU-related information, put online in English and (where possible) Russian;
• Training of university professors;
• Enhanced use of active methods of learning (role-play simulation games, student debates).
The research objective of the Centre is to explore issues and methodologies in the study of EU-Russian relations in Russia; and to compare these issues and methodology with those, outside of Russia. To achieve its research objectives, the Centre
• Establishes online connections with relevant websites;
• Provides information on Russian experts on the EU and EU-Russian relations;
• Conducts research on issues and methodologies in EU-Russian relations in Russia;
• Holds academic conferences;
• Produces a series of academic articles and a book.
The Centre promotes excellence and innovation in teaching and research in a number of ways. Firstly, both in its research and teaching parts it makes heavy use of the online information (through the publication of relevant information and also alerting about these publications via its newsletter). This is the easiest way of dissemination but also the one, which allows reaching to the widest possible circle. Secondly, the teaching part of the project presupposes development of online education resources (power point presentations, video of all the lectures of the courses, included in this project, connection of the available information on the EU with educational resources). Thirdly, teaching activities include a broad use of active methods of learning (like role-play simulation in the context of various classes but also a large-scale game once a year, ‘Model EU’, simulating the decision-making in the EU, debates among Russian and EU students via the means of Skype and video conferences). Fourthly, research project involves quantitative and qualitative methods, multidisciplinary approach to EU-Russian studies in Russia and abroad. Finally, the research project monitors closely wide societal implications of the difference in the research agenda of EU-Russian studies in Russia and abroad and will involve regular information of the civil society on the advance of the project.
The research part of the Centre looks at the study of EU-Russian relations and at the difference in the research agendas in Russia and beyond its borders. This focus is a part of the overall studies of EU external relations, of the difficulties, with which, for example, EU normative power, legal approximation demands and enlargement, are perceived outside. The difference in issues and methodology, which are applied in the research of EU-Russian relations, are not limited to the academic world. With the present demand for the expertise on current events, on policy-making, this difference spills over to the foreign and domestic policy planning but also leads to numerous societal stereotypes of EU-Russian relations on both sides but particularly in Russia. As a result misunderstanding is profound and the space for the information war is readily created. It is for this reason that the project, in our view, addresses ‘specific EU related subjects in studies which have limited exposure’.
This project suggests careful examination of issues and methodologies, which are applied to EU-Russian relations in Russia and to compare them to the research agenda in the EU (and in the wider Western world). This research starts as an academic one. However, given its wide societal implications, it will from the start presuppose the publication of research briefs on its progress, disseminated to the wider civil society through the website. The two conferences will bring together researchers, involved in the project both in the Centre and beyond it. The academic results will include a series of articles in the refereed journals and a book. At the same time these results will be also summarised and put online as research briefs for the benefits of the wider civil society and for more swift information on the results.
It is expected that this activity will facilitate the convergence and mutual understanding of the civil societies in Russia and in the EU. This depoliticised approach is applied deliberately, given the limits, which are currently in place for the visit of EU officials to Russian universities (by the Government of Russia) and a limited marge of manoeuvre for the Russian policy-makers.
The Centre ensures its openness to civil society through the following ways.
• It provides information on the EU and EU-Russian relations as well as research activities in this field through its website.
• It organises annual training for the representatives of the business, and NGOs on pertinent issues of European integration and EU-Russian relations (economic crisis, sanctions, WTO disputes, shared neighbourhood etc). This activity will build on the successful experience of the Jean Monnet Chair activities in this field.
• It ensures a possibility to ask questions related to the EU and to request assistance with the curricular development in other universities (through the website).
• The conference on the studies of EU-Russian relations is open to the wider public and their results (as well as presentations) will be published on the official website of the Centre.
• The publication of the projects are widely disseminated.
• Finally, the members of the project team actively participate in various discussions, specialised events (conferences, workshops) as well as in various TV and radio.