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Western politicians give positive outlook for upcoming EU–Russia summit in Brussels

11:55 | 17.12.2012 | Analytic

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17 December 2012. PenzaNews. Another EU–Russia summit will take place in Brussels on 21 December 2012. It is expected that the Russian Federation will be represented by President Vladimir Putin, and the European delegation will be headed by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Catherine Ashton.

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The agenda of the upcoming summit will include a wide range of issues, such as counter-terrorism, anti-corruption, science, and satellite navigation cooperation, trade and economic relations, implementation of the Common Steps in line with the work-plan on visas. Besides, the EU looks forward to substantial progress in Partnership for Modernization, and the Northern Dimension Partnership on Transport and Logistics Fund. This was stated by Maja Kocijancic, Spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews.”

According to her, the EU and Russia are indispensable partners to each other: to guarantee security and stability on the European continent, to tackle global challenges and governance issues together and to promote economic prosperity.

“We appreciate our cooperation at a global level and want to deepen it. We already work together well on issues like the Middle East Peace Process, Afghanistan and Iran. The EU wants to develop this Strategic Partnership further. A good basis would be an ambitious and comprehensive New Agreement. This should become new centrepiece of our relations and a solid basis for cooperation in years to come. It must include substantial provisions on trade, investment, energy. Following Russian accession to WTO, negotiators now concentrate on this. Summit should reconfirm this common aim,” Maja Kocijancic said.

Speaking on the visa issue, Spokesperson of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security emphasized that the two parties are “at the beginning of a clearly defined and agreed process.”

“The EU and Russia had agreed on a process and a clear methodology on visas. The EU has honored these commitments. We welcome progress made in the implementation of “Common Steps towards short-term visa-free travel.” We are fully on track and in respect of schedule. Information gathering will need to be followed by reforms. The Common steps must be fully implemented before we could move to a next stage, which could be a decision to open negotiations for a visa-waiver agreement,” Maja Kocijancic explained.

According to her, the fact that Brussels welcomes the entry into force in July of Polish-Russian agreement on local border traffic, based on earlier amendment to EU Regulations, further demonstrates the EU’s commitment to “facilitating mobility.”

Moreover, Maja Kocijancic stressed that the EU is ready to sign an upgraded visa facilitation agreement to replace VFA in force since 2007, which would bring additional facilitations to thousands of citizens.

“Unfortunately, this is being held back by a late additional Russian request to include a visa waiver for service passport holders, which we have not been able to agree. But we should sign the upgraded VFA as it stands now; it would bring considerable facilitation to many citizens,” Spokesperson of Catherine Ashton said.

The expert of the European Council on Foreign Relations Jana Kobzova also believes that Russia’s desire to include all holders of official passports into the categories of citizens who are allowed to the EU visa-free holds back progress on this issue.

“For Brussels, it is not understandable why Russia, officially saying it wants visa free regime with the EU as soon as possible, imposes visa requirements on the EU airlines crew at the same time. The EU is interested in expanding the contacts and facilitating the travel not only for diplomats and officials, but also with broader section of the society,” the analyst emphasized.

At the same time, according to her, the EU remains interested in upgrading its relations with Russia and conclude a new agreement that would allow the start of negotiations on a possible free trade zone between the EU and Russia.

In turn, expert of the German Council on Foreign Relations Stefan Meister thinks that the EU–Russia relations are blocked now and the two parties are focused on their domestic policy.

“A key issue will be the visa question, which is of highest priority for the Russian government. But I do not expect any breakthrough under the current conditions. There is still a domestic pressure in many EU countries including Germany, that visa free travel with Russia will bring migration and security problems. This is with regard to the control of Russia’s border with Ukraine and Central Asian states. Especially if there will come with the Eurasian Economic Union free travel of goods and people between Russia and Kazakhstan, the security concerns will even increase. Furthermore, it is a decision of political will. Because of increasing pressure on NGOs and opposition since Putin became president for a third term, the EU will not send a too positive signal to Moscow, that is supports the regime with a fast decision on Visa free travel,” Stefan Meister said.

“We have an increasing competition on the post-Soviet states since Russia launched the Eurasian Union. The harsh rhetoric from Russia regarding Western influence, the Syria case, pressure on some post-Soviet states strengthens the critics in the European Union,” he added.

The prominent German political analyst Alexander Rahr, Research Director of the German-Russian Forum, also believes that relations between the EU and Russia are at an impasse.

“The European Union does not need or want to get Russian support to overcome the crisis. Russian investments still hardly get into the EU, the EU–Russia energy partnership is far from perfect as well. Today Europe does not have a positive view on events in Russia, we hear only the constant criticism about the lack of democracy in the country,” he explained.

Analyzing potential solutions for the visa issue, the expert suggested that the real progress can only occur when all the EU countries come to a common denominator.

“There are some states that are in favor of a strict visa regime with the countries of the former Soviet Union. But on the other hand, we can not say that nothing is happening. There will be improvements. These improvements in the issue of visa will be announced during the summit. Some countries, such as Germany, are ready for a positive decision. The issuance of visas to the citizens of Russia will be further facilitated – some countries take these steps to improve relations with Russia,” Alexander Rahr said.

Meanwhile, Austrian politician, member of European Parliament Richard Seeber called Russia and the EU important strategic partners.

“Their relations are close and cover issues ranging from trade and economy to culture and education. The biannual EU–Russia Summit is the symbol of this close cooperation,” the politician emphasized.

However, according to him, it remains to be seen whether the summit will lead to major decisions.

“The EU and Russia are diverse partners, whose interests may naturally differ. It is important to further deepen and develop EU-Russia relations. It is, however, just as important to not rush into half-hearted agreements, but to thoroughly address all issues at stake in order to achieve real commitments on both sides,” the European Parliament member stated.

Speaking on the visa issue, Richard Seeber said the two parties are moving in the right direction.

“Free mobility for European citizens according to the Schengen Agreement was a substantial achievement for the population and the business community. But it was also a matured process on key issues such as document security, illegal migration, border management, security, and judicial cooperation. These issues go far beyond technical or administrative aspects. The EU and Russia are on the right way with regards to the visa question. All question marks need to be cleared, though, before the agreement can be considered ready,” the politician said.

Meanwhile, Knut Fleckenstein, Chairman of the Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee in the European Parliament expressed the view that the agenda of the summit will be rich.

“Russia and the EU are major partners both in Europe and on the international level. In 2008, both sides started negotiations for a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement but they have not been successfully concluded yet. It would be important to finally agree on the last remaining questions. Moreover, Russia’s recent accession to the WTO, its consequences for the Russian economy and for the trade relations with the EU as well as implementation of commitments taken as a WTO member will be on the agenda. Since Russia currently has the chairmanship of the G20, there will certainly also be a discussion of the upcoming challenges for the G20. Concerning international issues, the Iranian nuclear program and recent events in the Middle East will be important topics for discussion. I believe that an even more urgent topic will be the conflict in Syria. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia’s cooperation is vital in order to find a peaceful solution that will stop the further loss of life in Syria,” the MEP said.

In his opinion, not all the decisions taken at the last EU–Russia summit have already been implemented, so “Russia and the EU should urgently finish their homework now.”

“A successful EU–Russia summit would be a summit where both partners sign a new cooperation agreement reflecting all areas of cooperation – political, economic, scientific, social, and where both partners announce that all technical requirements necessary for introducing visa freedom for the citizens of the EU and Russia have been fulfilled. Establishing visa freedom would show the people that the EU-Russia partnership is not only about political contacts and economic investments, but about increasing the contacts and cooperation between individual citizens and our societies in general,” Knut Fleckenstein concluded.

The EU–Russia summits are held twice a year: once in Russia and once in the country holding the EU’s rotating presidency.

At the previous summit, which took place in June 2012 in St Petersburg, the meeting participants discussed a number of important issues, such as Partnership for Modernization, trade relations, the issue of visa, a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, Iran and Syria.

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