European Union looks to close ranks on Russia

March 29th, 2008 - 3:50 am ICT by admin  

DPA
Brdo (Slovenia), March 29 (DPA) European Union (EU) foreign ministers pushed Friday for a joint stance on relations with Russia as they moved closer to agreeing the basis for a new relationship with the bloc’s giant Eastern neighbour. “Usually, when we discuss Russia, less than half the EU members speak. This time, almost all took the floor, and they all stressed that unity and one voice are needed,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told DPA.

“The unity of the EU is of the utmost importance. Sometimes certain contacts between Russia and EU member states give the impression that Russia would prefer to talk with a disunited Europe - in a way, they’re trying to divide us,” Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who hosted the meeting, said.

Relations between the EU and Russia are currently governed by a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) agreed in 1997. That deal was initially set to last 10 years, with a successor to be negotiated by the end of 2007.

Talks on the successor have not yet begun because of disputes between Russia and EU members Poland and Lithuania, but ministers on Friday said that they hoped that the EU could launch a mandate for talks on the issue by the end of April.

“We all endorsed the idea that the negotiating mandate should be finalized and adopted as soon as possible. I hope this is possible in April,” Rupel said.

Poland’s veto on PCA talks was provoked by a Russian ban on its meat and vegetable products, while Lithuania protests against the closure of a Russian pipeline feeding crude oil to its only refinery - a pipeline ironically called “Druzhba,” or “Friendship”.

Poland’s stance has softened since Russia pledged to lift the meat ban and came to a deal Wednesday on the vegetable issue.

And Lithuania appeared to have won concessions from EU members Friday, as officials suggested that the issue of energy security should be taken up on the EU level.

“Agreements on energy cooperation belong as an integral part of this (PCA). We understand the concerns of some states regarding the security of their energy supplies - that is a question which must be solved within the PCA,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

“We are ready to open the mandate for talks with Russia, but they have to properly reflect our interests… In general, EU members are favourable, they understand our position,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas told dpa.

In a letter to colleagues Friday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his British counterpart, David Miliband, also called for unity, Kouchner said after the meeting.

The letter “underlined the need to present a common attitude and common certainties” in response to Russia, he said.

“Russia is potentially a very, very important partner of the EU. I think that the unity of EU countries is very important in ensuring that there is a structured and effective partnership with Russia,” Miliband said.

The letter also called for more “expert information” from analysts in both the West and Russia, to give EU decision-makers a better information base for their decisions.

Ministers also agreed that the recent election of Dmitry Medvedev as Russia’s future president represented a golden opportunity for the EU to revive its relationship with Russia.

“There is an opportunity that may be there and needs to be used, because Russia will soon have a new president. But we are not too idealistic: it also depends on Russia’s desire,” Paet said.
DPA

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