EU-Russia partnership talks expected to last a year
Renata Goldirova
May 26, 2008

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – EU foreign ministers have given the formal go-ahead to open EU-Russia talks on a new “Partnership and Co-operation” pact in June, putting a full-stop behind the 18-month-long impasse caused by Polish and Lithuanian complaints.

Slovene foreign minister Dmitrij Rupel, speaking on behalf of his country’s EU presidency, described Monday’s (26 May) compromise as “hard to achieve,” referring to shuttle diplomacy with Lithuania on the issue earlier this month.

Vilnius for weeks held internal EU talks on the negotiating mandate – outlining what the European Commission’s manoeuvring space will be during the talks with Russia – hostage. It demanded a special reference to three areas – energy security, judicial co-operation with Moscow and frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova.

“We are all concerned about frozen conflicts, we should all pursuit solutions for this conflicts even during negotiations between EU and Russia,” Mr Rupel said about the main sticking point, adding that “such compromise, such language was necessary to accommodate all the worries and all the interests of the 27 [member states]”.

However, Mr Rupel underlined that ministers encouraged their Lithuanian colleagues to adopt only “an unilateral statement”. “We have not put all the concerns into the main text” of the mandate, he said, admitting the union does not intend to “upset” Russia or its own member states.

Prior to Lithuania, Poland had blocked the talks because of a spat between Moscow and Warsaw concerning Polish meat exports.

Negotiations on the pact are to be launched at an EU-Russia summit in Siberia next month and are likely to last “around a year”, Slovenia said. It will then take another year for the pact to be ratified by the entire 27-nation bloc and Russia.

“We are not in front of some quick fix, but indeed the process has started. We should be able within the framework of negotiations to clarify all the problems that exists between the EU and Russia Federation,” Mr Rupel said, underlining: “Russia and the EU are partners and we want to work together in many areas”.

A similar message came from EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who said that the talks “will benefit” both sides. “When you have a neighbour which is an important neighbour, with which we have a lot of business and trade, and in energy and many things, it’s good to have a fundamental, stable relationship for many years”.

Energy access
Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski expects energy and energy market access to be the most problematic issues during the bilateral talks.

“Russian companies want to invest in our energy transmission networks, but we [the EU] are not always treated fairly there,” Mr Sikorski said on Monday.

He added: “We are not worried about countries that have energy and want to sell it at the best price. That is what producers always do. What we are worried about is the blackmail, non-market behaviour.”

The Polish minister, speaking at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, encouraged the commission to negotiate this particular issue “as if the provisions of the Energy Charter were ratified”.

Despite being pushed by Brussels, Moscow has yet to sign up to the 1998 international charter, which would liberalise parts of its energy sector.