President. The next item is statements by the Council and the Commission on the 17th EU-Russia Summit (26 May 2006).
Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as both the Federal Chancellor himself, the Foreign Minister, and I myself have already told you, relations with Russia are of particular strategic significance, and it is therefore obvious that the Austrian Presidency treated this 17th EU-Russia summit in Sochi on the Black Sea on 25 May as a special priority. In essence, the summit considered important issues in our relations with Russia, including the implementation of the common roadmap, the situation in the EU and in the Russian Federation, and future treaty relationships, but also international issues. At the heart of discussions, though, and for reasons that will be obvious to you, was the important topic of energy.
As you are all aware, only a few hours into the presidency, something occurred that the Federal Chancellor has termed a ‘wake up call’, and that has resulted in the European Union developing a deeper interest in this topic. I would also like to remind your House of the conclusions from the March European Council. The issue of relations in matters concerning energy, particularly with Russia, has also been the subject of in-depth internal debate within the European Union, and so the summit offered a good initial opportunity for talks with President Putin about the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which triggered the January crisis. Although President Putin strongly defended Russia's actions and tried to explain them, he was very struck by the strength of the European Union’s reaction in this matter.
Not only did the March European Council, for the first time, lay the foundations of a European energy policy, but it also had an impact on discussions in Russia. The European Council at the end of this week will be taking a paper by the High Representative and the Commission as the basis for deliberations on the external dimension of the European Union’s energy policy, which will also take account of the positions expressed by Russia at the summit.
The deliberations of the G8, which are to meet in St Petersburg in July, will also take account of the discussion on energy at the summit. You will be aware that, under the Russian presidency, the main topic of the G8 is the security of energy supply.
We have seized this opportunity for a thorough, honest and frank dialogue on energy matters. The European Union has made it clear that Russia must be – as it indeed was and is – a reliable partner in the energy sphere, but we have, nonetheless, expressed our concern at the effects on the EU of the January gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine and emphatically pointed out that our relationship in this area must be founded on mutuality, not only as regards access to markets, but also as regards infrastructure and investments. We also emphasised the significance, where competition is concerned, of the principles of transparency and openness, and strongly urged Russia to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty.
President Putin, by way of response to this, gave an assurance that Russia would continue to be a reliable energy supplier, while, at the same time, not excluding the possibility of Russia ratifying the Energy Charter Treaty in the long term. Until that happened, though, he said that cooperation should be on a case-by-case basis, and pointed out that there was already substantial foreign investment in the Russian energy sector, to a considerably greater extent than in many other energy-producing countries. He took the view that the mutual approach would make sense only if the European Union were itself prepared to allow Russia access to resources that it saw as being as significant for it as energy resources were to Russia.
It became evident that the European Union and Russia had decidedly different views as to the shape that future cooperation should take, but it should be noted on the positive side that the EU-Russia summit saw the subject being handled in a frank, positive and productive fashion, with both sides agreeing that the energy dialogue, having already been begun, should be continued with to a greater extent and in greater depth. In particular, President Putin clarified his desire to build bridges despite the differences and work towards an agreement with the EU. At the summit, both sides stressed their mutual dependency where energy was concerned and emphasised that the EU and Russia had to define their relations in this crucial area by mutual agreement.
The summit did, of course, include discussion of other issues. One of these was the possibility of Russia joining the WTO. Russia has decided to conclude negotiations before the end of this year in order to be able to join in 2007. We reassured them of our support and reiterated our willingness to then draft a ‘free trade agreement plus’ with Russia within the framework of a future comprehensive treaty that would be intended to replace the partnership and cooperation agreement that is, albeit due to expire, already in place.
Russia reiterated its desire that the work on a new treaty of this kind between it and the EU should be brought forward with all speed. It was agreed that this treaty should be as comprehensive and durable as possible in line with the needs and dynamics of the relations between us, and that, in order to avoid a vacuum, the existing agreement should continue to apply until such time as the new treaty entered into force.
We were particularly pleased that it was possible, at the summit, to sign visa facilitation and readmission agreements on the basis of the agreement reached at the end of the previous year under the UK’s presidency. These agreements will make both business traffic and interpersonal contact considerably easier. The European Union regards the conclusion of a readmission agreement with Russia as a major success and as being of great significance. This agreement is also a demonstration of the productivity of the relations between the EU and Russia and of the real benefit that our people derive from them. Further to it, we have again urged Russia to take steps to ensure that the border agreements with Estonia and Latvia can be ratified.
It goes without saying that human rights issues, too, were raised at this summit. In discussing the situation in Chechnya, we welcomed the agreement with the Commission on the modalities for the implementation of a EUR 20 million programme in support of socio-economic recovery in the Northern Caucasus. We also made reference to the consultations on human rights, the third round of which was held in Vienna in March, and which has become an essential element in relations between us.
Finally, I would also like to mention the fact that the deliberations also focused on international issues and, in particular, on the situation in Iran. We also addressed the situation in Belarus and reiterated our willingness to work together with Russia towards a resolution of the so-called ‘frozen conflicts’ in Moldova and Georgia.
It finally proved possible, at the summit, to reach agreement on an Institute for European Studies in Moscow, to be funded jointly by the EU and Russia.
All things considered, this was a good summit with free and frank discussions in a friendly atmosphere, with both sides being willing, despite their differences, to build bridges and find solutions for the problems they both face.
Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. Mr President, honourable Members, I am grateful for this opportunity to report, on behalf of the Commission, President Barroso and my colleague Ms Ferrero-Waldner, on the EU-Russia Summit which took place in Sochi on 25 May. The summit took place one year after the adoption of the four roadmaps for the Common Spaces and thus provided a good opportunity to review the progress made since then.
The summit was the occasion for the signature of the visa facilitation and readmission agreements. The visa facilitation agreement will help encourage contacts between the peoples of the EU and Russia. The readmission agreement will help tackle illegal immigration, an issue of growing concern to both the EU and Russia.
At the summit, there was a very open, frank and substantive discussion with President Putin on energy. It was never our expectation that we would find complete agreement in Sochi, but the Summit did clarify our respective positions. That was extremely helpful as we prepare for the European Council discussions on the external aspects of EU energy policy on the basis of the joint paper by the Commission and the High Representative. The EU and Russia are and certainly will remain interdependent in the energy sector and there is a genuine opportunity to integrate EU and Russian energy markets in a mutually beneficial, reciprocal, transparent and non-discriminatory manner. In that regard, we look forward to continuing our dialogue with Russia both bilaterally and multilaterally at next month’s G8 Summit.
As for the future framework for EU-Russia relations, the Summit agreed that our aim should be to replace the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with a new, durable, comprehensive and legally-binding agreement which should be capable of promoting the further development of EU-Russia relations. The PCA would remain in place until a new agreement comes into force. The Commission is currently preparing draft negotiating directives to that effect. If the Council is in a position to adopt them by the next EU-Russia Summit, negotiations could begin by the end of this year. For both the EU and Russia, Russia’s WTO accession remains a key priority. This will lay the foundations for bringing EU-Russia trade and economic relations to a qualitatively new level in the context of the PCA successor agreement, taking into account the existing PCA objective of a free trade area.
In that context, let me report to Parliament that we are making good progress on agreeing a new framework document for the renovated Northern Dimension policy. The Commission is negotiating the text with Russia, Norway and Iceland. I am pleased to say that Russia shows every interest in confirming its joint ownership of the Northern Dimension policy. We hope to have an agreement in time for the senior officials’ meeting in Finland in September. We will keep Parliament informed and seek to ensure that the parliamentary dimension is included in the new policy.
International issues were discussed in depth at the summit. The dialogue which has developed with Russia over recent months, in particular on Iran and the Middle East, is a sound example of the EU and Russia working to put the concept of effective multilateralism into practice.
The EU also emphasised the need to work together with Russia on issues in our common neighbourhood. We remain firmly of the view that the resolution of the frozen conflicts and the development of democracy and market economy in the countries of the region represent the best route to ensuring a stable, peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood for both the EU and Russia.
A number of other sensitive issues were discussed in a constructive spirit at the summit. The EU stressed the importance of Russia ratifying the border agreement with Estonia and signing and ratifying the border agreement with Latvia. In that context, let me welcome the recent meeting between Prime Ministers Kalvitis and Fradkov and hope that this represents the start of an intensified bilateral dialogue.
The EU also raised its continuing concerns with regard to the situation in Chechnya, notably in the light of the most recent visit by the UN High Representative for Human Rights, Louise Arbour. The regular EU-Russia human rights consultations continue to provide a useful forum for addressing these issues.
In conclusion, the summit demonstrated the breadth and depth of our common policy agenda with Russia. As the EU-Russia strategic partnership develops, the need for EU coherence becomes all the more essential. The dialogue the Commission has with the European Parliament on Russia is therefore a very important element in this regard in enhancing coherence, coexistence and the effectiveness of EU policy vis-à-vis the Russian Federation.
Camiel Eurlings, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (NL) Mr President, there is no doubt as to the importance of cooperation between the European Union and Russia. While we must, more than ever, try to enjoy the benefits of that relationship, we must also have the courage to address the difficult areas with each other. That is why it is necessary for Europe, more than ever, to speak with one voice. So, then, let us hear no more of German Chancellors who claim that Russia is a fantastic democracy, while other countries try to improve the human rights situation in that country. There is now hope of a new beginning in that respect.
Although our cooperation is based on four common areas, we cannot but conclude that this cooperation is not sufficiently strategic or pragmatic. Economically, barriers have been lowered and we have gained benefits, but with regard to the other three common areas, there has been too little in the way of real progress. It is important, though, to get this balance right. We must avoid creating the impression that human rights are temporarily secondary to economic interests or gas interests. We must strike the right balance whilst keeping the channels of communication open.
With regard to energy, as was said a moment ago, we must pursue not only a sustainable relationship between supplier and customer, but also prevent Russia from using gas as a political lever in future. Human rights should also be expressly laid down in the new partnership and cooperation agreement after 2007, such agreement not just involving consultation among politicians, but from now on also permanent contributions from international and national independent NGOs.
Finally, if Russia does actually want to join the World Trade Organisation, it will have to abide by WTO standards from now on. We should, accordingly, heap criticism on Russia, not only for the economic sanctions against Georgia and Moldova, but also for the on-going trade conflict with Poland. Commissioner, this has been going on for months, and is now also a European responsibility. Can you indicate how we can resolve this on-going conflict as soon as possible?
Whatever happens, the common approach is paramount and that is what we must focus on now more than ever. I think that the common resolution as it is now before us is a good starting point for Parliament and I, as delegation chairman, should like to pass it on to our counterparts in Russia next week.
Jan Marinus Wiersma, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (NL) Mr President, I would concur with Mr Eurlings’ final remarks. We have drafted an excellent joint resolution covering many aspects which I cannot repeat in the two minutes allotted to me. I also share Mr Eurlings' criticism of the somewhat pragmatic way in which cooperation with the Russian Federation is fleshed out by working in those four areas.
Taking practical steps is, in principle, to be welcomed, as was demonstrated recently with visa facilitation between the EU and Russia, although this gets a little in the way of the balance that should be struck between the different areas we regard as important. Policy should not become fragmented, which is exactly what is at risk of happening with the system of the four areas and the steps that are taken within each of those. We must continue to look for a common denominator in respect of this cooperation. Three elements are important in this.
Energy has already been mentioned. We need a more transparent way of working together, which should indeed involve us refraining from exerting political pressures, as is occasionally done in the area of energy.
Secondly, we must enter into a critical human rights dialogue with Russia about the situation within Russia itself, about the Chechens, about the NGOs, about the authoritarian tendencies which the government is increasingly adopting, but also about democracy in its immediate neighbourhood, such as Belarus, in particular.
Thirdly, we must look for solutions for a number of security problems in the region in which respect Russia has not, as yet, made any really constructive contribution – Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan spring to mind.
It is important, in our view, that justice should be done to all three elements. We should not give preferential treatment to one element to the detriment of the others. Accordingly, gas should not take priority over democracy, or vice versa. All three elements I mentioned must be central on the common agenda. This year is a good time for this. We can talk to Russia because it is chairing the G8 and because it occupies the presidency, no less, of the Council of Europe.
There is a certain tension if you want to play on all three fields at once, but that tension is normal when foreign policy is involved, when Russia is involved, and in that sense we must try to be clear in our policy by emphasising all three elements and not backing away from a critical dialogue about the things in Russia that we do not find agreeable.
Henrik Lax, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (SV) Mr President, I shall deal only with the visa agreement. We say that we want to simplify visa procedures, but on closer inspection of the bilateral agreement between the EU and Russia, it becomes apparent that there are, in fact, very few simplifications associated with the agreement. The agreement will affect only a small percentage of travellers. Although the groups involved are important ones, such as students, participants in organised programmes and business travellers, the question must be asked as to what the situation is for other groups, in other words for the great majority who really would benefit from seeing something of the world.
Is it desirable to be categorising people in the modern world? For the average traveller, that is to say for more than 90% of those wanting to travel, the agreement will provide no simplifications at all. It will still, for example, be impossible to make a private car journey to Russia. This is because the jungle-like mess of requirements relating to invitations and mandatory registrations is not going to be overhauled. It will also remain unclear how the introduction of what are known as biometric data is to be linked to the visa procedure. For me, it is a mystery why this agreement has not been linked to the international Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Every year, for example, a number of children are abducted to Russia from my home country, Finland, in each case by the Russian half of the parental couple. There is no legal recourse for bringing the children back home to the other parent.
All this is obvious. We in the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe hope for a sympathetic hearing for these concerns from the other groups. A chimera of an agreement will always be just that – this needs to be said loud and clear. The agreement makes a difference to too few people and does not sufficiently simplify the actual visa process. This problem applies both to those people wanting to travel to Russia and to those wanting to enter the Schengen area. To simply blame the weak result on the Russians is not the job of this Parliament. We must be able to assess the whole picture and set goals for social intercourse with our neighbours. That is the task for which we were elected.
Milan Horáček, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, although the relaxed visa regime for students and sportsmen is a first step, the return of illegal immigrants is highly questionable, and there are many other questions to which the May summit produced no answers. There can be no successful modernisation of the state apparatus, of the economy and of the armed forces if there is a lack of will on the part of the government and of interest on the part of the predatory capitalists who are only after profit with dirty money.
The rule of law and the democratisation of the country are being hamstrung; the violations of human rights in Chechnya are a tragedy. The new law on non-governmental organisations is curtailing the rights of civil society and the freedom of expression. Critics of the regime are treated in ways that run counter to the standards of the Council of Europe, with political prisoners such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev – the latter of whom is seriously ill – being subject to physical assault and psychological intimidation. The legal system being under the thumb of politicians, it is an open question as to whether Russia is a reliable source of energy. Europe would be playing with danger if it were to make itself too dependent. What the gas supply dispute with Ukraine at the beginning of the year showed us was that Europe, too, could see its supply turned off in the event of a dispute. Transparency and good governance are mentioned, but there is not enough evidence of them. The Yukos case exemplifies the need for the government to disclose the ways in which the state and the energy companies are interconnected and mutually dependent. At the time of the elections in Belarus, the EU charged Lukashenko with electoral fraud, authoritarianism and corruption. Putin, on the other hand, congratulated his ally on his victory. It is because we regard democracy, human rights and the rule of law as fundamental that they must not be allowed to decay in a strategic partner such as Russia.
Esko Seppänen, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, the representative of the country holding the presidency said in his speech that at the start of the presidency there was an awakening. What did we awake to? We have been aware of the fact of energy dependence for a long time. The entire growth in the EU’s energy needs will be covered in the future by increased imports of gas. In this connection, we hopefully awoke to the problems of the free passage of energy, which have become evident from the events in Ukraine and Russia.
What happened before the first cold spell of the year? Before that Ukraine had insisted on switching to market prices for transit facilities. That suited Russia, as long as Russia would receive market prices for the gas and not just for transit. It consequently emerged that Ukraine had been stealing gas from the reserves stored in Ukraine by the Russian organisation Gazprom. At the start of the year it became evident that Ukraine was stealing gas from stocks bound for Europe to supply its own needs. In this connection, then, we hopefully awoke to the fact that these problems of transit are serious and stability is also needed in transit countries, and not just in Russia, when it comes to gas supplies.
Deliveries of gas are obviously made more reliable by the Baltic Sea gas pipeline, which is understandable in that it obviates the need for transit countries that can turn off the taps and steal gas from the pipe. With regard to Mr Rehn’s speech, I would say that the Northern Dimension would be worth involving in the EU’s future problems.
Inese Vaidere, on behalf of the UEN Group (LV). – Ladies and gentlemen, the European Union is interested in developing good relations with Russia, and there are some areas where this has already been successfully achieved. This was demonstrated by some of the results of the May summit. One example of successful cooperation is the conclusion of the Readmission Agreement. The situation prevailing until now, where illegal immigrants from Russia could not be returned to that country, was unacceptable. The European Union should also facilitate the conclusion of an appropriate Readmission Agreement between Russia and Ukraine, otherwise illegal immigrants from Russia who enter the European Union through this country will be returned to and remain in Ukraine.
The establishment of good relations is a two-way process. It is paradoxical that the European Union and Russia have at this time concluded the Agreement on visa facilitation. As we all know, visas are documents that grant the right to cross national borders; however, Russia refuses to conclude agreements on borders with Latvia and Estonia, and therefore also with the European Union. In order to continue to establish constructive relations, Russia must sign and ratify these agreements with Latvia and Estonia, without any pressure on the legally elected parliaments and governments of these Member States. The Agreement on visa facilitation between the European Union and Russia cannot come into force until Russia concludes agreements on borders with all Member States of the European Union.
With regard to visas, it is also important to ensure that the residents of the European Union’s frontier regions are granted relief arrangements for entering Russia. This would facilitate both the economic development of these regions and contacts between people.
It is very much appreciated that energy security issues of general interest were solved during the summit. Nevertheless, we hope that in the future greater attention will also be paid to the restriction of democratic freedom and human rights in Russia, where over the last few years there has been noticeable regression in the freedom of the mass media, in the activities of non-governmental organisations and in other fields. The strengthening of democracy in Russia is in the interest of the European Union, but most of all in the interest of Russia itself.
Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (NL) Mr President, since May 2004, the European Union and Russia have found common ground in their relationship with each other. Last night, I read in a column by a Dutch analyst, who also happens to be a Russian expert, that according to the Russians, most of these areas or areas of cooperation can, by and large, be described as voids. This self-mockery is something the European institutions should take very seriously. After all, big joint pronouncements are of more use to Moscow than Brussels at the moment.
A pragmatic approach to address real common problems has more chance of success. Access to Kaliningrad or visa arrangements bear witness to this. I would urge you, though, not to think twice about abandoning the illusion of a common neighbourhood policy with the Kremlin. Take Belarus, for example, where the idea of a common approach is simply absurd. I had to do a double-take when I saw that in a motion for a resolution. I have two concrete pragmatic questions for the Commission and Council.
Has the security of the gas supply from Russia to European customers now been laid down in law and been made transparent? Secondly, as the Austrian Presidency already touched upon this, what is the latest on the final border regulation between the Russian Federation and the two EU Member States Estonia and Latvia? In the final analysis, this is about one of the Union’s common external borders. Positive responses to those two questions would certainly show the relationship with Russia in a more appealing light.
Marek Aleksander Czarnecki (NI). – (PL) Mr President, the 17th EU-Russia summit took place in Sochi on 25 May. The most important event was the signing of the agreement, which had been on the cards for a few months, on readmission and on simplifying visa procedures for European Union and Russian Federation citizens.
No other documents were signed. Neither was any joint statement made. The summit in Sochi showed that the list of differences between Russia and the European Union grows ever longer. Controversial issues include policies on Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, the situation in Russia itself, especially with regard to respect for human rights, and above all energy policy.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find areas where definite agreements which produce tangible results can be negotiated. At the same time, however, both sides are clearly trying to present their cooperation as friendly and constructive. They therefore avoid sensitive subjects in public and instead play up, sometimes out of proportion to their actual importance, the fields where agreements have been reached.
I think this is the right direction to follow and I hope it is one that will allow us to avoid mistakes such as those made by Poland in its dealings with our Eastern neighbour.
Laima Liucija Andrikienė (PPE-DE). – (LT) Mr President, the last high-level meeting between the EU and Russia revealed certain aspects of EU-Russian relations, which were obvious before, but which had not been discussed openly. On Thursday, the European Parliament will vote on a resolution, in which it will indicate in its assessment of the results of the last high-level meeting between the EU and Russia that (and I quote), ‘the current EU partnership with Russia is more pragmatic than strategic as common economic interests have taken first place, while it is not possible to achieve fundamental changes in the areas of human rights and the rule of law’. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this is a qualitatively new evaluation as until now it was asserted that Russia and the EU are strategic partners, whose partnership is based on common values, respect for human rights and freedoms, democratic principles, etc. Until now almost all resolutions, which I have had an opportunity to vote on in this Parliament, were based on this very viewpoint – strategic partnership.
On the other hand, it was obvious that these statements would remain as simply declarations, the hopes of the EU as post-Yeltsin Russia can hardly boast of victories in the areas of human rights or press freedom, rather the contrary. I believe that when the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement currently in force ends and a new agreement is being prepared, these aspects must be taken into account. I feel that the EU's priorities should be formulated differently.
The second aspect, to which I would like to draw your attention, is the dialogue with Russia in the area of energy. Unfortunately, at the Sochi summit, which devoted a lot of time to energy, a breakthrough failed to materialise, and Russian representatives continue to maintain that they act according to market economy principles. Only Russia somehow applies those principles above all as a punishment for the pro-Western, pro-European orientation of some neighbouring states. Meanwhile, the EU's proposals for Russia to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty, proposals on transparency and the participation of EU companies in the management of Russian energy sector companies continue to remain a problem for which we must find a solution.
Reino Paasilinna (PSE). – (FI) Mr President, the hottest topic in EU-Russia relations at the moment is energy. Energy is a barometer of EU and Russian policy and the EU and Russian economies. Energy is also a possible cause of conflict between the European Union and Russia. Power cuts and interruptions in the flow of gas and oil immediately result in internal crises in many Member States. The interruptions in January left Europe in a partial state of emergency.
What then could be done about this? The problem could initially be solved with supply contracts. Russia wants long-term supply contracts so that it can focus on investing in equipment to guarantee its own energy supply. Many in the Union believe that long-term contracts harm competition. In this situation, however, in which there is always a shortage of energy, long-term contracts are hardly the biggest problem; rather, they could offer both parties a common goal. Contracts guarantee the position of both buyer and seller, and they create stability in the energy supply. At the same time, the Union could have an influence on increased investment in the Russian energy sector, which in turn would have an impact on reliability of operations. The aim is obviously at some stage to open up the two energy markets to competition, both the Union’s and Russia’s.
Action could be taken during the Finnish Presidency, as we in Finland have had a long energy partnership with Russia with very long-term agreements, and there have been no worries about reliability of operations, even though Russia has had a couple of revolutions in the last 15 years. All the while, the electric power, the oil and the gas have been arriving in the volumes agreed. It therefore makes life easier for both parties and creates predictability, which should be the correct starting point between neighbours.
Cecilia Malmström, (ALDE). – (SV) Mr President, it is, of course, excellent that we have regular fora and mechanisms to develop and deepen our partnership with Russia. However, this type of summit, like the one held in Sochi, is perhaps not the best way of doing things. Such summits tend to be excessively hyped up – they produce high levels of expectation but furnish quite meagre results. At this particular meeting, for example, there was not that much by way of results. On the other hand, it is better that we do make slow progress and attempt to achieve quality in the relations that we do have.
We do, of course, have a lot in common with Russia: trade, the environment and energy. This is clear, now of all times, in connection with the scandalous and disgraceful blackmail on Russia’s part using its control of energy as a negotiating tool. As regards the fight against terrorism, organised crime and a number of conflicts, there is a need for increased cooperation between Russia and Europe. It is gratifying that Russia is on the same side as the USA and ourselves in respect of the negotiations with Iran, but it is less pleasing that Russia is playing solo when it comes to Belarus, Hamas and other matters.
As many of my fellow Members have already pointed out, we must be extremely clear when it comes to any evaluations we make of our relations with Russia. The trend that we have witnessed in recent times in terms of human rights and democracy is very worrying. Things are moving backwards, not forwards. Foreign Minister Lavrov visited the Committee on Foreign Affairs a month ago. He said that Europe and the European Parliament have a very emotional view of human rights. He expressed the opinion that we are a little too fixated and that we focused only on this issue. In my view, his comments were an excellent compliment, but they were not meant as one. It is incredibly important that we are clear when we bring up the situation of voluntary organisations, the increasingly dwindling freedom of the media and the concentration of power in the hands of Mr Putin. All this is very serious indeed, and it must be pointed out constantly.
In our resolution on Russia, which we voted on almost exactly one year ago, we highlighted the need for a very clear, well thought-out and values-based strategy towards Russia. Unfortunately, the hope that we expressed at that juncture is still just hope today.
Philip Claeys (NI). – (NL) Mr President, it is self-evident that the relationship between the European Union and the Russian Federation is of huge importance. Attention was drawn a moment ago to the energy aspects, to the need for further democratisation in Russia and also to the aspects of international politics. We have also noticed that the European Union, Russia and the United States increasingly join forces on the international stage.
Even following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is still a major world player. That also applies at regional level, but we notice that there is still considerable tension between Russia on the one hand and, on the other, the states that have freed themselves from the shackles of the Soviet Union. As examples of this, I would cite the continued difficult relationship with the Baltic Sea countries, or the situation in Chechnya, and there have also been the interventions in Ukraine that were designed to nip the Orange Revolution in the bud.
Democracy in Russia itself is precarious to say the least; one need only look at the problems that NGOs are experiencing. In the dialogue between the European Union and Russia, we should therefore constantly draw attention to the need for better compliance with human rights, transparency in energy policy, the fight against corruption and the need for less centralism in general.
Another problem that deserves much more attention is that of the decommissioned nuclear power stations, which are under hardly any surveillance these days, and from which terrorist groups could well derive benefit. That is a point that should always be on the agenda when we talk about relations between the European Union and Russia.
Charles Tannock (PPE-DE). – Mr President, Russia remains, geographically of course, the largest country in the world and enjoys a strategic partnership with the EU through the ‘four common spaces’. Russia, for all its faults, remains a democracy, albeit an increasingly authoritarian one. It still enjoys vigorous debate in its many media outlets, even if the control by the Kremlin through self-censorship is becoming more apparent in recent years.
The judiciary, like in many former Soviet countries, still lacks the degree of independence seen in the EU and tends to bend to political pressure. But it is not always so. I remain an enormous admirer of the contribution to European culture made by Russia, and believe strongly that we must not destabilise this massive Eurasian country, whose confidence is now on the rise again with the recent massive inflow of petrodollars.
Undoubtedly, Russia has seen violations of human rights by its military in the north Caucasus. But we must also recognise the threat posed by Chechen militant Islamic groups eager to capture Muslim population in Russia, which now accounts for around 17% of the population and is rising rapidly. Al-Qa’ida is eager to put down roots in the region. Clearly also Gazprom the ‘gas weapon’ – used as an extended arm of Russian foreign policy – always seems to upset my friend, and understandably so, particularly in Ukraine, Moldova and the Caucasus.
Russia must be seen as a reliable energy trading partner and not as a trade bully towards its neighbours and those countries nearby, as we saw recently over the ban against Georgia and Moldova in the importation of their wines and mineral waters, or, even more bizarrely, on the ‘bilateral issue’ with Polish farm products, which I always thought was the Commission’s prerogative, covered by the monopoly on external trade.
I would also call on Russia now to follow Ukraine’s lead in allowing visa-free travel to all EU citizens in order to boost tourism and facilitate a better public knowledge of this giant eastern neighbour of ours.
Lastly, I call on Russia to support the EU and the US in preventing nuclear proliferation by Iran.
Hannes Swoboda (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, according to the President-in-Office of the Council, President Putin has said that the possibility of the energy charter being ratified cannot be excluded in the long term; what that means to me is that it is not going to happen, and that, in fact, was also what the Russian foreign minister told the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Russian ambassador has just said the same thing to us when we discussed energy with him.
If that is indeed the case, then we must, of course – for is there any alternative? – accept that we will have to shape the relationship established by the treaty between Russia and the EU accordingly, insisting, for a start, on symmetry in the opening-up of the markets. It is the very opposite of clear why we should open up our markets while the other party does not. We are not, in fact, opening them up completely, so both sides probably need to do more as regards more joint projects, not only for the extraction of crude oil and natural gas, but also as regards putting in place the routes whereby they are to be transported, in the shape of pipelines and so on.
Secondly, we can be sure that Russia also raised the subject of nuclear technologies and of the trade in them; this is another area where an agreement will probably be needed in order to sort matters out. Thirdly, we must of course tell the Russians that we want to diversify, and it is quite clear that we also have to tell them that we want to build other new pipelines in order to make ourselves less dependent, to choose who to depend on, and to create alternatives.
I believe that energy policy is certainly one area in which we have to say, loud and clear, ‘yes’ to cooperation with Russia, but ‘no’ to dependence on it.
Sophia in 't Veld (ALDE). – Mr President, I just wish to address the issue of human rights. I see that note was taken of the human rights consultations at the summit on 25 May 2006. On 27 May 2006 I had the dubious pleasure of being present at the event organised by Gay Pride, which has been banned, and saw with my own eyes how the Russians feel about freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and protection of the human rights of gay people. Frankly, I am not impressed and I would call on our EU leaders to show much stronger leadership when it comes to human rights.
I have specific questions for the Commissioner. Did you raise the issue of the Gay Pride march with Mr Putin two days before the event, when it was already known there would be problems? Did you put pressure on the Russians? Why was the issue not raised at the meeting between President Barroso, Mr Schüssel and religious leaders two days later? Will you raise the issue at the next opportunity, which I believe is the G8 meeting? Will you reply to the chair of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who responded to the events in Moscow by saying that rather than reminding the Russians that human rights are universal we should not impose our western, liberal values on Russia?
In fact, we should be promoting human rights in all our external relations. I should like to hear how you intend to do that, Commissioner.
Alessandro Battilocchio (NI). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking on behalf of the new Italian Socialist Party. We should welcome the progress made at the latest EU-Russia summit and the willingness shown by both sides to talk. It is important to strictly maintain that line during the negotiations on the future partnership agreement.
While energy policy is a priority for Europe, it is equally vital that we be careful to ensure that a fully democratic space is created, based on respect for human rights and for ethnic and religious minorities. Effective cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in the many other conflicts still smouldering on our borders, in the southern Caucasus in particular, cannot in fact work without a basis of common, shared values. We therefore call on Russia to become more open in that regard.
On more than one occasion, the European Union has expressly called for greater synergy in promoting transparency in the exercise of authority and in combating civil and human rights abuses, particularly in difficult regions such as Chechnya, which today still complains of insufficient access to international aid and inadequate development in the region.
IN THE CHAIR: MRS KAUFMANN Vice-President
Tunne Kelam (PPE-DE). – Madam President, I think the essence of today’s debate is that our approach to Russia has been too pragmatic. As we observe a clear trend away from civil society and democratic freedoms, it is of paramount importance to strike a convincing balance between economic and strategic interests as the core values on which our partnership with Russia are officially based.
The resolution drafted by the European Parliament points to several key issues which need to be resolved: the problem of Transnistria, the conflict in the Caucasus, and the need to achieve progress on three other common spaces, besides a common economic space.
We welcome the Commission’s assistance for recovery in the Northern Caucasus. However, it is important to make sure that this assistance has really been reaching the people in need. I think it is the view of this Parliament that the human rights dialogue should have the status of a central element of partnership in the future. It is not enough to raise human rights issues while still believing or pretending to believe that, in spite of all the alarming facts, Russia is continuing on its way to democracy, Russia is fulfilling its commitments to the Council of Europe signed ten years ago, demonstrating real progress in building a rule of law society and implementing the verdicts of the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights – verdicts which the Russian Government has so far ignored. That should be a precondition for a new PCA, which will be signed next year.
Commissioner Rehn has raised the question of interdependence. I fully agree, but we are not more dependent on Russian gas than Russia will be dependent on the revenues it receives from its gas.
Panagiotis Beglitis (PSE). – (EL) Madam President, international and regional developments confirm the need to formulate new integrated strategic relations between the European Union and Russia.
No one disputes that the conventional framework of relations dates back to 1994 and cannot respond to the new geo-strategic and geo-economic circumstances. From this point of view, the European Union and the European Commission in particular must take specific initiatives, so that we do not wait for the 1994 agreement to expire in December 2007, but take initiatives from today in the direction of strengthening strategic relations with Russia.
Madam President, the European Union needs its own independent strategy towards Russia. On the basis of this assumption, it must repel any attempt to create conditions for a new cold war of confrontation, as being sought by certain powers in the US Administration. The recent statements by the US Vice-President Nick Cheney may serve the interests of the United States, but they should have no bearing on the interests of the European Union and its Member States. From this point of view, the construction of relations of mutual trust and mutual dependence between the two European strategic partners is a sine qua non and will also help the new Central and Eastern European countries to overcome the fear and insecurity of the historic past.
Elmar Brok (PPE-DE). – (DE) Madam President, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, to describe Russia as an important and significant partner is not merely formulaic, for it currently holds the presidency of the Council of Europe and of the G8, and it is also very much in our own interest that we should develop a strategic partnership with it commensurate with its own mass and of the energy and other raw materials that it possesses, not to mention its geographical position. Even though Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, so it is not without its problems as regards the process of transformation and some models of conduct.
We do see, though, just how important Russia can be where Iran is concerned, where the prospect of having it in the same boat with us and being able to drag Iran to the table for negotiations that might well prevent it from building an atom bomb is a powerful argument in favour of maintaining good relations with such a country.
I believe that that summit also affords us a good opportunity to make headway on the issues of visa relaxations and the arrangements for the return of immigrants, and will enable further progress to be achieved over the coming year as regards the partnership and cooperation agreement, which is needed in order to put our partnership on a firm footing, to develop the four-area-strategy, and achieve results in energy security in particular, for Russia too must know that the partnership is possible only if it recognises not only the freedom of all nations in its immediate neighbourhood and beyond, but also that they may not be allowed to become victims on other grounds.
We do, of course, regard what is going on within Russia – where the freedom of the press is concerned, for example – with some concern; is it well-advised to go back to having such a concentration of big businesses in state ownership, even though the present high energy prices mean that they are currently bringing in plenty of money? Can that result in self-sustaining economic development? I have my doubts, just as I do when it comes to human rights – another issue that has to be addressed.
There are critical questions, but we should resolve them through dialogue, and thus be in a position to breathe life into this partnership.
Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (PSE). – (HU) Madam President, those who are familiar with Russian politics and style are well aware of the fact that we can achieve more results using a more realistic, pragmatic policy that is more ready to compromise, than by exerting pressure. Hungary has managed to achieve a complete turnaround in this respect over the past four years, with mutual apologies and concrete, pragmatic steps.
Russia was wrong to penalise Ukraine by shutting off gas taps, even though Western European consumers were not affected. It is important that Russia does not employ such double-edged measures in the future, and the European Union should not allow itself to become hysterical. The fear that the Russians may obtain too large a share in the final phase of the European Union energy sector is exaggerated, because at this moment their share does not even reach 10%. Joint venture companies in Germany are working extremely well. It is not sufficient to hold Russia back, to persuade it not to exert pressure by withholding energy supplies or by restricting imports of Moldavian and Georgian wine and Polish meat; the European Union must help by acting as a mediator, to ensure that Russia’s neighbours take into account the geopolitical realities and the geographical closeness of Russia.
Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I see that time has almost caught up with us, but I can keep it brief.
I am in fact in the very fortunate position of being able to say, at the end of this very interesting debate, that, although I do not of course agree with everything that has been said, I do agree with a very great deal of it, and that is very much the position of the Council too. I am grateful to Mr Eurlings and Mr Wiersma, and Mr Brok, too, said many things that struck me as quite essential and important, particularly in relation to the issue of partnership in international affairs. Reference was made to the issue of Iran, and it is also important that we should recall, as Mr Kelam and Mr Andrejevs reminded us, the self-evident fact that Russia must discharge its obligations to the Council of Europe, the presidency of which it holds. We are all familiar with the Ilaşcu case, and expect further progress to be made on it in the Council of Europe, particularly while Russia holds the presidency.
I can do no other than agree with the last speaker when he says that what is needed in the final analysis is a pragmatic approach characterised by partnership, but one that does not involve us abandoning our principles. It goes without saying that human rights issues have to be addressed and must be addressed in plain language, but this must be done with one end in view; not that of bringing about a breakdown in relations, but that of achieving something definite and positive in terms of a better mutual understanding of what human rights are. That is what the Council is working towards; that is what the Commission is aiming for. I am glad to be able to say, at the end of this debate, that it is also an objective that your House shares, and so I do believe that, if we work together, we will, not least to our own benefit, be able to make this partnership with Russia into something very positive.
Olli Rehn, Member of the Commission. Madam President, thank you for a very serious and substantive debate. I fully agree with Mr Winkler in that regard. Mr Eurlings and various Members pointed out that we must not trade human rights for energy; I fully agree. We want both human rights and energy. How can we do that? We need principles, pragmatism and partnership.
Let me point out that in the field of human rights we have established a set of formal consultations and we have had three meetings since the launch of these consultations in 2005. By way of example, the latest meeting focused on four issues: firstly, on the Russian law on non-governmental organizations; secondly, human rights in the military; thirdly, issues relating to the north Caucasus; and fourthly, racism and xenophobia. We also held a preparatory meeting with human rights non-governmental organisations, which we deemed particularly useful.
I want to inform you that we will be holding the next meeting of these consultations in November in Moscow and will be pursuing the idea of closer involvement of NGOs. We want to make these consultations more results-oriented in the future.
I can assure you that the Commission will keep human rights at centre-stage in our relations with Russia, not least as we are talking about the country which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of Europe.
On energy, Mr Kelam referred to the interdependence between the EU and Russia. We can also say that we not only have interdependence but also import dependence, since by 2020 the EU will have to import around 70% of the gas it consumes. According to current forecasts, Russian production and export capacity will fall short of EU needs unless massive investment takes place in Russia.
We are therefore working to ensure that sufficient additional quantities of gas can come into the EU and we will have to look at all possible sources and routes, including Turkey, incidentally. This requires strengthened cooperation and increased imports from Russia, as well as from other countries.
At the same time, let us keep the big picture in mind. One of Europe’s greatest challenges will be to reduce dependence on energy imports and on fossil fuels. Therefore, it is very important that our energy policy and the external aspects of Europe’s common energy policy are very high on the agenda of the Finnish Presidency and, I trust, of all the future presidencies.
Reference was made to Gazprom and its ambitions to purchase EU assets. In this regard the main concern within the EU is the apparent lack of a level playing field. EU companies which may invest in upstream assets in Russia do not have the right to independently access the Russian gas transportation infrastructure. Within the EU, the right to access gas transportation infrastructure is enshrined in EU legislation.
In this context, the rules applicable to Gazprom, notably EU competition rules, would be no different to those applied to any other company. The fact that Gazprom is the exclusive supplier of gas from Russia to the EU would have to be taken into account in any objective analysis.
Reference was also made to free trade and the PCA. I want to finish with this, because this is a very important strategic issue in EU-Russia relations. The objective of a free trade agreement was already included in the PCA when it was concluded in 1994.
For a free trade agreement, Russian accession to the WTO is a prerequisite. In this regard, it is important to note that the WTO accession process is now coming to its final phase and we expect that this condition will soon be met by Russia.
Reference to a free trade agreement was made at the Sochi Summit for further exploration. Our point of departure is that trade and economic integration will be core elements for the post-PCA agreement and our intention is to set up a broader and deeper free trade agreement, some kind of ‘FTA-plus’ achieving deeper free trade than normal, simple free trade agreements.
Let me conclude now, because I know that many colleagues have more important things to do. Allez les Bleus!
President. Six motions for resolutions(1) to wind up the debate have been tabled under Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.
The debate is closed.
The vote will take place on Thursday.
I see that Mrs in’t Veld has a point of order. To which of the Rules of Procedure do you wish to refer?
Sophia in 't Veld (ALDE). – Madam President, there was not sufficient time for both gentlemen to reply to my very precise questions and I would like them to provide this House with a written reply if possible.
President. What we will do, then, is forward your question and request in the hope that you will then get an answer to them.