Chairmanship of Belarus in the Eurasian Economic Union and the renewal of the Eurasian Economic Commission leadership
February 3, 2020
On December 20, the new composition of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission was approved at a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council. Belarus will take over the chairmanship of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Board from Armenia. Mikhail Myasnikovich, a former speaker of the upper house of the Belarusian parliament and ex-Prime Minister of Belarus, was approved as Chairman. He and the whole new EEC Board will take office on February 1, 2020.

EEC Board reshuffle

A new member of the Board will be Artak Kamalyan from Armenia, who will replace Belarus' representative Alexander Subbotin as the Minister for Industry and the Agro-Industrial Complex.

Another representative of Armenia, Gegam Vardanyan, will become the Minister for Internal Markets, Informatisation and ICT, succeeding Karine Minasyan, who is also Armenian.

Before EEC Board took the office on February 1 Veronika Nikishina (Russia) left the post of Minister for Trade. She was replaced with Andrey Slepnev, former head of Russian Export Center.

The following EEC Board members retain their positions:

  • Minister for Technical Regulation Viktor Nazarenko (Belarus);
  • Minister for Economy and Financial Policy Timur Zhaksylykov (Kazakhstan);
  • Minister for Competition and Antimonopoly Regulation Serik Zhumangarin (Kazakhstan);
  • Minister for Customs Cooperation Nurlan Akmatov (Kyrgyzstan);
  • Minister for Energy and Infrastructure Emil Kaykiyev (Kyrgyzstan);
  • Minister for Integration and Macroeconomics Sergey Glazyev (Russia).

Therefore, the current allocation of seats on the EEC Board, i.e. each member state has two seats (the chairman position included), remains in place.

The replacement of the EEC Board Chairman is happening simultaneously with the transition of the EAEU chairmanship for 2020 from Armenia to Belarus. The chairing country largely determines the substantive agenda of the EAEU activities for the coming year.

The EEC Board leadership reshuffle is a part of planned rotation (every four years). Recent appointments to the EEC indicate the ambiguous status of the Commission Ministers and the Commission itself.

On the one hand, the importance of these positions, especially that of the Chairman, remains high: only political heavyweights (at least vice prime ministers or heads of parliaments) have been appointed to this position, the other EEC members have also been notable political figures in the countries they represent.
On the other hand, the exceptional appointment of Sergey Glazyev (who used to be Advisor to the President) in 2018 as a representative of Russia (in recent years he has seriously lost his influence and authority), can somewhat undermine the authority of the EEC.

It is also worth mentioned that the replacement of Veronika Nikishina, who was considered a qualified lobbyist for the interests of the EEC, by Andrei Slepnev, may indicate Russia's desire to strengthen its position in the Commission, taking into account the Belarusian chairmanship in the EAEU, as well as complicated negotiations on further Russia and Belarus mutual integration process.

Personnel changes in the EEC may also be associated with the appointment of the new Russian Government in mid-January 2020 (see Kesarev's Memo on new Cabinet here). As a result, Alexei Overchuk replaced Anton Siluanov as Russia's representative on the EEC Council.
On the other hand, the exceptional appointment of Sergey Glazyev (who used to be Advisor to the President) in 2018 as a representative of Russia (in recent years he has seriously lost his influence and authority), can somewhat undermine the authority of the EEC.

It is also worth mentioned that the replacement of Veronika Nikishina, who was considered a qualified lobbyist for the interests of the EEC, by Andrei Slepnev, may indicate Russia's desire to strengthen its position in the Commission, taking into account the Belarusian chairmanship in the EAEU, as well as complicated negotiations on further Russia and Belarus mutual integration process.

Personnel changes in the EEC may also be associated with the appointment of the new Russian Government in mid-January 2020 (see Kesarev's Memo on new Cabinet here). As a result, Alexei Overchuk replaced Anton Siluanov as Russia's representative on the EEC Council.

It is important to note that significant rotations among members of the Board have already taken place in 2018-2019 (before the planned rotation, but also allowed by the EAEU Treaty):

  • In September 2018, two representatives of Belarus were appointed (Viktor Nazarenko and Alexander Subbotin became Minister for Technical Regulation and Minister for Industry and the Agro-Industrial Complex respectively).

    Mr. Nazarenko worked as Chairman of the State Committee for Standardisation of Belarus before his appointment.

    Mr. Subbotin worked as Aide to the President of the Republic of Belarus – Inspector for the Vitebsk Region.

  • In May 2019, Kazakhstan replaced the Minister for Competition and Antimonopoly Regulation (Serik Zhumangarin became the new member of the EEC Board).

    Earlier, Mr. Zhumangarin worked as Vice Minister of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
  • In October 2019, Sergey Glazyev became the Minister for Integration and Macroeconomics appointed by Russia.

    Before the appointment, Mr. Glazyev worked as an Advisor to the President of Russia.

    It should be noted that in 2009-2012 Mr. Glazyev worked as the responsible Secretary of the Commission of the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia (the EAEU was established on the basis of this Union).

In general, the high importance of the leading positions in the EEC Board can be explained by the following reasons:

  1. The increasing influence of the EEC due to the expansion of its spheres of competence to new areas of regulation.

    The Commission's "weight" in the structure of the EAEU management bodies may also increase as a result of the transfer of competencies and new functions.

    Unlike chairs of the EAEU superior bodies – the EEC Council, the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council (EIC), the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC) – who are appointed for a period of one year, the Chair of the EEC Board holds the post for four years.

  2. Potential accession of new members (Uzbekistan in particular) to the EAEU, as well as expanding cooperation with third countries in a non-member format (free trade zone, observer status, etc.) and other associations (BRICS, ASEAN, the Shanghai Pact, etc.).

  3. The EEC participation in the implementation of major infrastructure projects, including the projects carried out as part of the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative (the Belt).

  4. Significant supranational regulatory powers (in the field of technical regulation, tariff and non-tariff measures, trade negotiations, etc.).

Depending on the areas they supervise, the Ministers of the EEC Board have different significance for businesses. The following EEC members are the most important in this context:

  • The Minister for Trade (supervises tariff and non-tariff regulation, foreign trade policy and domestic market protection).

    Andrey Slepnev previously held the post of Minister for Trade in EEC (2012 – 2016). He also dealt with external integration issue while working as deputy Minister of Economic Development.

  • The Minister for Technical Regulation.

    Viktor Nazarenko is a Belarus representative. He is responsible for the sphere that has a direct impact on businesses, especially the consumer sector (in terms of conditions for products' access to the EAEU market). Around 40% of all EAEU-level decisions are related to technical regulation.

    Despite the fact that President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has openly criticised the work of Mr. Nazarenko (for not doing enough to promote national interests), the latter is a significant political figure. He served as a Minister for just a little more than one year before reappointment.

The above-mentioned ministers are directly involved in the decision-making process in the sphere of goods' circulation in the EAEU single market – it is the most developed dimension of the integration project. To date, these posts are assigned to representatives of Russia (the EEC Minister for Trade) and Belarus (the Minister for Technical Regulation).
It is also likely that there will be staff reshuffles in the EEC Advisory Committees. Advisory committees, along with the Board's departments, are key stakeholders that ensure "early work" on the Commission's decisions and consultations with businesses.

Monitoring of Belarusian stakeholders' activities in the context of changes at the level of the EAEU is of particular importance for businesses. It should be noted that the first year of Belarus' chairmanship in the EEC (2020) also coincides with the country's chairmanship in the EAEU as a whole.

Thus, Belarusian representatives, in addition to the post of the EEC Board Chairman, will also preside over the Supreme Eurasian Council (level of presidents), the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council (level of prime ministers) and the EEC Council (level of vice premiers). Leadership positions in the key bodies of the Union for Belarus are a "window of opportunity" for intensive promotion of their own integration agenda.

Belarus is likely to be interested in strengthening and expanding the authority of the EEC Board both relative to the governments of the member states of the EAEU and to the higher bodies of the Union. To implement this agenda, Minsk will have enough leverage.

Moreover, the period of the Belarusian chairmanship in the EEC (until 2024) is a milestone from the point of view of the EAEU prospects. It is assumed that by 2025 the countries of the Union should form a single regulatory field for a number of key markets – energy, transport, finances, labour, etc.

Thus, the main part of the relevant preparatory work will be carried out in the coming years (taking into account the bureaucratic peculiarities of the EAEU bodies in terms of the pace of documents elaboration and harmonisation, the key work on launching single markets by 2025 will be conducted in 2023-2024). The effectiveness of this work will largely determine the prospects for the existence of the EAEU as a whole.

The Eurasian Economic Union is a young integration union, and its development prospects are still unclear. The effectiveness of further integration within the EAEU will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The willingness of the member states to transfer more sovereign powers and regulatory functions to the supranational level (primarily the EEC Board; there is often resistance from national regulatory bodies):

    A significant part of EEC decisions can now be challenged and cancelled at the level of the EAEU superior bodies or blocked at the level of the member states, which have veto power.

    The EEC does not currently have sufficient instruments to influence the governments of the EAEU member states that do not comply with the Board's decisions or violate the EAEU norms, etc.

    The ability of the member states to change the fundamental Treaty on the EAEU
    , which contains some "disintegration norms".

  • The ability of the EAEU to offer new formats for interaction with third countries, to involve them into the Union activities, not limiting these interactions to the form of membership or the creation of a free trade.

  • The pace of economic growth of the EAEU member states, balancing of exchange rates and harmonisation of budgetary standards (like in the EU, which in many respects serves as a model for the EAEU).

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