No Deadline Will Be Set for EU-Russia Partnership Pact

BRUSSELS -- The European Union and Russia will set no deadline for agreeing on a wide-ranging partnership pact, negotiators said Friday, despite pressure from countries such as Germany for a quick deal.

Speaking after the first negotiating round in Brussels, the two sides said they had agreed on what areas should be covered by the new pact, due to replace an agreement signed in 1997.

But they left open how long the talks would take, and what structure any deal encompassing trade, energy cooperation, joint justice initiatives and cultural dialogue would have.

"There is nothing more harmful for any negotiating process than a deadline," Russia's envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said at a news conference with his EU counterpart, EU Commission external relations chief Eneko Landaburu.

Landaburu said he shared Chizhov's assessment.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in May that he hoped the new partnership agreement would be negotiated "within a clear time frame," insisting Russia needed to provide reliable business conditions for foreign investors.

Russian and EU leaders gave the green light for the negotiations to go ahead at a summit in Khanty-Mansiisk last month. The talks were already delayed by 18 months by wrangling within the EU over the negotiating mandate.

The shape of any future agreement remains unclear. Chizhov reaffirmed Russia's preference for drafting a concise, legally binding framework with separate sectoral pacts, but Landaburu said the EU did not see the question as a priority.

"What is important is to have something which in substance will be better than the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which we have so far. ... At the end of the day we will see whether it is short or long, this is not a priority," Landaburu said.

He said he would next meet Chizhov in September.