Russia–EU Summit provided opportunity for honest and open dialogue

February 21, 2014 11:28 am

Another EU–Russia summit, which was shortened to just one day, took place on 28 January in Brussels. A new basic agreement between the EU and Russia was one of the main topics on the agenda. The event that was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov, the Council of Europe’s President Herman Van Rompuy, the European Commission’s Chairman José Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

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According to the Russian President, cooperation between Moscow and Brussels is of a large-scale and multi-faceted nature; however, the parties have to set themselves “targets that are more ambitious.”

“One of them is to link the European and Eurasian integration processes. I am convinced that there are no contradictions between the two models: both are based on similar principles and norms of the World Trade Organization; they could effectively complement each other and contribute to the growth of mutual trade turnover,” he stated during a press conference following the summit.

Even though the Ukrainian conflict was not on the agenda, the parties paid special attention to this issue. Vladimir Putin stated that Russia’s concerns about an Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU are about the consequences it will have on the Russian economy, and are not politically maneuvering.

“As for our readiness to help Ukraine, I have already spoken about this and can repeat it now: both the loan we spoke about and the gradual quarterly decrease in energy prices, first and foremost gas, are based on necessity and our wish to provide support – not to a particular government, but to the Ukrainian nation,” said the President.

In turn, Herman Van Rompuy stressed that the EU’s association agreements, in particular with Ukraine, are “compatible” with Russia’s free trade arrangements with their Eastern partners.

“Trade agreements can interact constructively with the customs union as long as WTO rules are applied and free-decision making guaranteed,” European Council President said.

In addition, the parties discussed the problem of the Third Energy Package and reached an agreement on expanding use of the OPAL gas pipeline, which is the continuation of the Nord Stream gas pipeline on German territory.

Following the summit, the Joint Russia – EU Statement on Combating Terrorism was adopted. The EU and Russia agreed to further develop their strategic partnership in combating and preventing crimes committed by terrorists and organized crime, including exploring prospects of signing cooperation agreements in the future, to ensure, inter alia, an information exchange between Russia and the EU in the sphere of combating terrorism.

Gazprom’s Nord Stream Pipeline was an item discussed on the agenda

Meanwhile, according to Alexey Pushkov, Chairperson of the international affairs committee of Russian Duma, Russian–EU summit in Brussels has shown that relations have entered deadlock. From his point of view, restoration of EU leadership is needed to break it.

In turn, Peter Van Elsuwege, Professor of European Union law at University of Ghent, Belgium, noted that summit did not provoke any significant changes in the relations between Moscow and Brussels but at least both the EU and Russia could exchange some views on issues such as the situation in Ukraine, trade, energy and cooperation against crime and terrorism.

“The only tangible result of the summit is the adoption of a Joint Statement on Combating Terrorism. On other issues, both partners basically repeated and clarified their well-known position. For instance, the EU explained once again that its Eastern Partnership policy should not be regarded as a policy against Russia and that the pending Association Agreements with countries such as Ukraine Moldova and Georgia will not be detrimental to Russia’s economic interests. The Russian Federation, on the other hand, proposed to link the European and Eurasian integration processes and repeated the suggestion to create a free trade zone between the EU and the Eurasian Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan,” he explained.

According to him, both partners have a fundamentally different view on the development of their shared neighborhood.

“For the EU, the focus is on the development of close bilateral ties with the Eastern neighbors. For Russia, the focus is on the development of close relations between two regional blocs: EU and Eurasian Union. It is not easy to reconcile both visions and I am afraid that the discussions during the latest EU–Russia summit were nothing more than a ‘dialogue of the deaf’,” the expert added.

In his opinion, the relationship between the EU and Russia is characterized by a lack of trust, which is clear with regard to many issues such as shared neighborhood, energy, trade disputes and visa regime.

“I am not very optimistic about the development of the relations: the differences of position are fundamental and the lack of trust will not easily disappear,” he noted.

Moreover, according to him, the worsening atmosphere of EU–Russia relations as a result of the evolution in Ukraine and human rights concerns imply that the prospects of further visa facilitation are not very bright.

Bruno Lete, Senior Program Officer, Foreign and Security Policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, also said that no effective progress was achieved during the summit.

“Following a European request the Summit – which normally takes 2 days – was shortened to a 3 hours meeting. No progress was made in important dossiers, such as visa liberalization or lingering trade disputes. Instead, Vladimir Putin and the European leaders used the opportunity to ‘reflect’ on the future of EU–Russia relations. Obviously, Ukraine dominated the setting,” he said.

However, the expert stressed that the meeting was still good to have, and allowed both parties to be frank and transparent about their questions and frustrations.

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“I believe the Summit created a chance to be honest with each other and that’s already a big thing,” the analyst emphasized.

In his opinion, the relationship between Russia and the EU has matured significantly over the past 20 years.

“This is confirmed by cooperation in technical areas such as commerce, tourism, education or visa liberalization. But geopolitical tensions between the EU and Russia over the fate of Eastern European countries have recently generated a lot of frustrations and mistrust,” he said.

“Europeans are angered by what they see as Russia preventing East-European countries to seek closer ties with Brussels (especially Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova).Vladimir Putin for his part considers his policies as a natural step to rebuild a relationship with countries that leaned towards Moscow throughout a great part of the 20th century. In sum, because of these two fundamental different views the relationship is currently in stagnation,” he added.

At the same time, Bruno Lete reminded that the EU and Russia are, and will always be neighbors on the same continent.

“That is a simple reality that will never change. I think leaders in the EU and Russia realize that as well as the importance of the economic relationship. So I think we will see an effort to develop mechanisms and dialogue to manage tensions between both parties in the geo-political domain (I don’t believe these tensions will disappear in any nearby future), while at the same time Europeans and Russians will continue to try to make progress in technical areas such as trade and visa liberalization,” the expert noted.

According to him, managing tensions and building constructive dialogue is crucially important.

“Neither the Europeans or the Russians will benefit from a stagnating relationship,” the analyst stressed.

According to Knut Fleckenstein, Chairman of the Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee in the European Parliament, this latest EU–Russia summit was different from the previous ones.

“It took place at a moment of time where the EU and Russia are facing many difficulties in their bilateral relationship. The EU and Russia declare themselves to be strategic partners. However, over the last months Russia has exerted pressure on common neighbors who are interested in a closer cooperation with the EU. The EU can hardly accept such a position from a strategic partner. The goal of this EU–Russia summit was thus to clarify both partners’ interests in this relationship and to find a common way forward. I believe that this task has not been accomplished yet. As decided, talks will to continue,” the politician stated.

He also stressed that the EU and Russia declare themselves to be strategic partners and thus should have common objectives and share common responsibility.

“The goal of the latest EU–Russia summit was also to redirect the work towards the common objectives and responsibility. However, the summit was only a first step. Now this common work has to continue,” Knut Fleckenstein noted.

Meanwhile, Soren Liborius, Head of Press and Information section, EU Delegation to Russia, was more optimistic commenting on the results of the summit.

The Ukraine Problem was a dominant topic of discussion at the Russia-EU Summit

“It was a productive meeting; the atmosphere was open and frank. The format of the Summit has changed, which allowed the leaders to discuss the key issues of our strategic partnership and the direction in which we want to develop it. We reinforced our common interests that will help our relationship to move forward,” he said.

According to him, the EU and Russia are inseparable partners: their cooperation covers various areas, including trade, investment, environmental protection, energy, and other international issues.

“Over the past three years, our bilateral trade has increased and totaled about 430 billion euros in 2012. This makes the EU the largest trading partner of Russia. At the same time, the Russian Federation is the third largest trading partner of the European Union after the United States and China. The EU and Russia are also interdependent partners in the energy sector. European Union is the main destination of Russia’s energy exports: the EU takes 80% of Russia’s oil exports, 70% of its gas and 50% of Russia’s coal export. This makes Russia the largest energy supplier to the EU. At the same time, Russia is interested in the European energy market,” Soren Liborius explained.

At the same time, in his opinion, the parties now have serious disagreements on several issues, such as failure to comply with WTO obligations, the relationship between the state and civil society, Eastern Partnership and Russia’s pressure on some eastern neighbors of the EU.

“These irritants do not allow us to use the full potential of our relationship and require open discussion, which actually took place at the EU–Russia summit on January 28.”

“I believe that Russia and the EU can become stronger and our citizens can be more prosperous, if we build a relationship on trust, respect for international obligations, respect for the independence, sovereignty and free choice of our common neighbors. It is important that not only the leaders, but also business and civil society, representatives of the scientific community and the media were creating common space from the Atlantic to the Pacific by their personal example. The EU and Russia are strategic partners. We share a common continent and history. We are called to build our common future together. We must not forget that we are acting on behalf of our citizens, and our work should be beneficial to them. I also hope that by the next summit we will achieve sufficient progress to resume the negotiations on a new agreement, which will help us to move from partnership by necessity to partnership by preference,” Soren Liborius concluded.

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