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European politicians and experts hope for productive dialogue at the EU–Russia summit

13:38 | 24.05.2013 | Analytic


24 May 2013. PenzaNews. Another EU–Russia summit will be held in Yekaterinburg on 3–4 June 2013. It is expected that the agenda of the upcoming event will overlap with the main topics of Russian-European government consultations that took place in March. According to the media reports, the parties intend to discuss trade and economic partnership, cooperation in the field of energy, security and justice, the process of transition to a visa-free regime, industrial policy, transport, information and communication technology, science, innovation and education.

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However, according to many observers, the central theme of the EU–Russia summit will again be an agreement of visa regime liberalization, which is being discussed since 2002.

Summarizing the results of the trilateral meeting with Polish and German foreign ministers held in Warsaw on May 10, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov noted that the negotiators are in the final stage of agreeing the document.

Moreover, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski and his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle stated that they welcome the idea of rapid abolition of visa regime between Russia and the EU.

“Together with the minister of internal affairs, we sent a letter to the European Commission. We believe that we can achieve some progress on the visa issue. We have shown flexibility. Abolishing visas between the EU and Russia is our long-term goal,” Guido Westerwelle said.

According to Polish foreign minister, the country will restore the visa-free regime for Russian citizens as soon as Russia meets all the necessary technical conditions relating to biometric passports and readmission.

Speaking of the potential outcome of the summit, Dr. Rainer Stinner, foreign policy spokesman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the German Bundestag expressed the hope that the upcoming summit would be a step towards an improvement of EU-Russia relations.

“There are several international issues where Russia and the EU need to work together. We have the same goal to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran and cooperate well in the E3+3 process. We have different opinions concerning Syria, but given the US-Russian agreement on new peace talks, I hope that we can come to a more concerted approach towards Syria,” he said in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews.”

According to the politician, the visa issue is also an important topic.

“I hope that we can achieve progress. However, Russia wants to include service passports and negotiating the conditions for this inclusion is a tough issue. I doubt that a major breakthrough can be made at the upcoming summit, but we want to achieve visa-free short-term travel for Russian and EU citizens in the long-run,” Rainer Stinner explained.

The expert of the European Council on Foreign Relations Jana Kobzova shared the politician’s opinion concerning service passports and added that a fast progress is unlikely because “both sides are now stuck in that dispute.”

“The negotiations are ongoing and both sides need to implement steps they agreed to. However, it will take years before they move towards a visa free regime,” the European analyst said.

According to her, Moscow and Brussels have mutual grievances against each other as they failed to implement some of the conditions they agreed to. For example, Europeans have been asking Russia to scrap the mandatory registration for travelers who stay in Russia longer than seven days, but it has not happened yet.

“Russians also have their grievances: for example, visa issuing by EU member states should be unified in theory – i.e. all EU member states should demand same documents, etc. – but in practice it is not,” Jana Kobzova said and stressed that both sides still have to do a lot of their own homework.

In her opinion, there are number of issues on the EU’s and Russia’s common agenda, starting from perspective for a free trade agreement, cooperation in the sphere of energy, boosting bilateral trade, progress towards a potential visa-free regime, and finishing with cooperation on a host of international issues such as Syria and Iran and many others. However, expectations as for the outcomes of the upcoming summit are small.

“Both sides have in theory lots of joint interests but in practice, Moscow and Brussels have been struggling to find a common ground on most of them,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Knut Fleckenstein, Chairman of the Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee in the European Parliament expressed the view that the upcoming meeting would be difficult.

“As always, discussions will mention bilateral issues and global issues of concern. On the bilateral level, the EU has to take into account that it was not possible to make any progress with Russia concerning the planned new agreement about EU-Russia cooperation. The Russian government wants more cooperation with the EU on international crisis management. It is hard to understand why on the other hand the Russian government gives the impression of no longer being interested in a new and comprehensive cooperation agreement, which would deal with all areas of EU-Russia cooperation. EU-Russia relations should not only be about security policy,” the deputy said.

Moreover, according to him, Russia is still not fulfilling some of its obligations as a new World Trade Organization (WTO) member, which is disappointing, especially since the EU has been a strong supporter of Russia’s accession to the WTO.

“The domestic situation in Russia, especially the crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), will also be a topic at the upcoming EU-Russia summit. Many NGOs and civil society initiatives in EU Member States are worried about the prospects for their Russian partner organizations. The renewed Russian NGO law, which requires Russian NGOs to register as “foreign agents” if they receive financial support by non-Russian partner organizations, puts into danger the cooperation that has been established between civil society representatives in Russia and in the EU,” Knut Fleckenstein noted.

Speaking about visa rules relaxation, the politician suggested that the progress on visas would be further delayed by a recent decision by the Russian government to collect passenger name records of the people who travel to Russia or even only transit by Russia.

“The European Union has adopted legislation on data protection because this is a very important concern for EU citizens. The European Parliament has therefore been very much committed to protect EU citizens’ data in the best possible way. Years ago this was a major issue in EU–US relations and it seems that this will become a controversial issue in relations with Russia as well,” the politician said, but called on both Russia and the EU to do their best to continue pursuing the objective of visa-free travel.

In turn, expert of the German Council on Foreign Relations Stefan Meister was more optimistic in his forecasts of the future border crossing.

“I do not think that there will be any progress except in the visa question, where EU member states like Germany are more willing to push the process. There are still open questions like the biometric passports, but big EU member states like Germany want to have a break though in that area, so I expect not a final decision but clear statements, how progress can make this year,” the German expert said.

Meanwhile, Austrian politician, member of European Parliament Richard Seeber suggested that what is most likely to be expected with regard to visas is not a breakthrough, but a continuation of the work already conducted.

“Moscow and Brussels have launched the “Common Steps towards visa-free short-term travel.” The implementation of these Common Steps is well underway on both sides. Yet, some work remains to be done. Only when all steps are fulfilled, visa free travel between the EU and Russia can become a reality,” the deputy said.

However, according to him, the EU has made it clear that it is technically impossible to fully realize visa free travel between the EU and Russia by the Sochi Winter Olympics in early 2014.

“Both sides have clearly stated visa free travel as their common goal. However, the full list of Common Steps needs to be completed before moving to the next phase,” Richard Seeber added.

Stefan Liebich, member of the Left Party (Die Linke) in German Parliament, would like to see Russia and the EU to discuss the role and the further involvement of the civil society in the process of developing the bilateral relations, as he believes the topic is closely connected to the further visa regime facilitation.

“I expect at least a revision of the document on the Russia–EU visa dialogue. Further steps are possible and needed if the EU takes the role of civil society seriously,” the German politician said.

According to him, Germany dropped it objections concerning service passports, following numerous interventions in the Bundestag initiated by Die Linke parliamentary group; but it is difficult to say if that will be enough to reach the objective.

“I want to stress the point, that I advise the EU not to use the visa question as a tool,” Stefan Liebich emphasized.

In his opinion, enabling people to travel freely – without queuing before consulates, having to do a lot of paperwork and interviews and waiting – between the EU and Russia in both ways is a smart way to promote freedom and equality in the member states and in Russia.

“Sports, Culture, Science, common activities of NGOs are areas where people can come together and build common ground. Therefore, steps on both sides to ease travel for people are welcome,” the deputy 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 December 2012 in Brussels, the meeting participants discussed a number of important 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, Partnership for Modernization, and the Northern Dimension Partnership on Transport and Logistics Fund.

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