EU-Russia Relations: Towards a Stronger Partnership

17 May 2005

Fraser Cameron, Director of Studies at the European Policy Centre, reminded the audience of the “long, difficult road” which EU-Russian relations had travelled only to culminate in a “love affair,” as EU President, Jean-Claude Juncker termed it at the recent EU-Russia Summit. Both sides had agreed a roadmap toward achieving the four common spaces. Significant gaps in the relationship had been narrowed thanks to the “good work” on both sides.

Jaime Perez-Vidal, Russia Unit, External Relations DG, European Commission, briefly outlined the achievements made on the four common spaces, after sometimes “difficult and arduous” negotiations in the run-up to the  Summit. The first freedom centred around economic issues with the final goal a free trade zone, based on a non-discriminatory application of the law, transparency and good governance. Progress had been made with respect to the regulatory dialogue, on financial issues and on enhanced cooperation with respect to the telecom, transport and energy industries. Both sides had also agreed to move forward with respect to environmental issues and to enhance dialogue on achieving the Kyoto Protocol benchmarks. Further, cooperation in the space sector had been agreed.

As regards justice and home affairs, it had been agreed to increase the consultation on human rights and combating terrorism. Both sides were also keen to move ahead with  visa and readmission agreements, although these talks promised to be fraught with  difficulty. Visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union was for the long term.

On external relations, both sides had underlined their commitment to effective multilateralism, to further development of the United Nations system and enhanced cooperation in the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Combating the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was also a priority.

As regards the common space on education, science and technology and cultural exchanges, there was  an agreement to strengthen collaboration in the science and research fields, in which Russia is already engaged through the Commission’s 6th Framework Programme. Mr. Perez-Vidal welcomed the Russian decision on the ITER reactor. He also stressed the European willingness to bring Russia into the Bologna process and facilitate the recognition of Russian diplomas in all EU Member States. Increased cooperation had been agreed upon for language training and the creation of a Moscow Institute of European Studies, following the Bruges model.

Other issues addressed at the Summit had included the Kaliningrad issue, the Middle East and  in Iraq. Overall, the Summit had been “very successful” and had set the stage for “a quantum leap in EU-Russian relations.”

Mikhail Petrakov, Chargé d’Affairs, Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Union, largely agreed with Mr. Perez-Vidal’s assessment. The roadmaps that had been agreed were comprehensive and general in nature, giving both sides the necessary flexibility. Russia had taken stock of its relations with Europe based on the 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). Since then relations had progressed and the recently concluded roadmap negotiations reflected these positive changes, though, of course, the latter were not legally binding. He agreed that the roadmap on the common economic space was the most detailed and farthest-reaching of the agreements. Further steps on combating terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking were the crucial elements in the second space. On visa and readmission issues he accepted  that Russia had a lot of work ahead of itself in addressing its relations with third countries and the treatment of their nationals on Russian soil. With respect to  international issues, non-proliferation of WMD and crisis management were the most important elements for the Russian side. The EU and Russia had to work together as partners in dealing with their  neighbours to avoid a potentially divisive situation, in which a third country might be forced to decide between allegiance to one or the other.

He praised the concrete progress made with respect to cooperation in science and technology.  The fourth ‘basket’ was at once about concrete projects as it was about basic measures, which influenced people-to-people relations. Perceptions were always based on the degree of education and an understanding of a counterpart’s language. The creation of the Institute for European Studies and an increased focus on language education would facilitate the practical relations between Russia and the EU.. Looking ahead to 2007, he said that it would be a “milestone” year in EU-Russian relations, in part because of the ten-year anniversary of the PCA between the two sides but also because the European Constitution was likely to come into force. “We must ensure that we pass this watershed well.” The roadmaps had laid the groundwork and the Summit had been “a genuine success and a big step forward.”

Howard Chase, Director of European Government Affairs for British Petroleum (BP), offered a business perspective and praised the “reassuringly pragmatic view” at the Summit that had demonstrated  a large degree of overlap and common interest between the two sides. Russia was in a process of “huge transition” in terms of its economy but that there was “much to be positive about in the last 15 years.” With respect to trade he noted that while Russia was Europe’s fifth largest trading partner, energy dominated that exchange with services only making up about 2% of the overall equation. The WTO process for Russia had to be used to step up a greater variation of the EU-Russian trade profile. Customs procedures could be improved on very practical terms, he said, referencing a UNICE paper that offered such much-needed practical advice.   Turning to investments he said that what was needed was a renewal of existing capital stock. The large sums of money invested in Russia were nevertheless little more than a “drop in the ocean” when compared to the international average. Investors could increase the output of a country’s economy, bring in new technologies, world-class management and team development and be the model of a “good corporate citizen.” In exchange, a large investor such as BP would expect security of law, security of international property rights and sound governance.

With respect to energy in particular, he noted that 80% of all exports went to Europe. Europe was well positioned to secure its energy needs through a variety of sources well into the future, but Russia was a large component of these future plans. The EU-Russia energy dialogue had developed well over the last five years and  should serve as a forum for investment decisions and should set a framework for interested investors. He encouraged both sides to preserve and move forward the framework of the Energy Charter Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol. He agreed that the visa regime question was of fundamental importance and needed to be tackled urgently. On education, there were clear areas of progress, though he wondered whether the successful Erasmus programme of student exchanges might not be extended to include Russia. Overall, there was “very positive momentum” to be taken away from the EU-Russia Summit.