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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

And Now for the Other Big Summit

MTEU delegation head Richard Wright taking questions at the news conference Monday.
Right on the heels of the U.S.-Russia summit in Moscow and the NATO-Russia summit in Rome, top European Union officials are coming to town this week for a much less hyped but arguably no less important summit.

The participation of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, European Commission President Romano Prodi, the three commissioners responsible for the key areas of external relations, trade and energy and the EU's top coordinator of its common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, gives this EU-Russia summit, the ninth, more weight than any of the past.

The issues on the agenda, too, reflect the growing importance of Russia for the EU, as well as Russia's increased interests in Europe, both political and economic.

Participants in the summit will tackle three major issues, Richard Wright, head of the EU delegation in Moscow, told journalists Monday. Increased cooperation in foreign affairs and security, as well as the fight against new threats such as terrorism, will be one, he said, and a second will be the work toward a common economic space, which includes the questions of Russia's accession to the WTO, market economy status and the ongoing energy dialogue.

The hottest issue to be addressed at the summit will be EU enlargement and the consequences this will have for the Baltic states and especially for the Kaliningrad region.

Despite the importance of these issues, there has been little progress due to a lack of a coherent EU policy and of political will on both sides. But the six-month Spanish presidency, which ends in June, and good personal relations between Aznar and President Vladimir Putin have helped to move EU-Russia relations to a new stage.

"The Spanish presidency and the leadership of Prime Minister Aznar is one of the main reasons for putting relations with Russia as one of the priorities of EU foreign relations," Jose Maria Robles Fraga, Spain's ambassador to Russia, said in an interview.

According to Spanish diplomats, Aznar and Putin are flying to Moscow from Rome on Tuesday on the same plane, and Aznar will be a guest for the night in Putin's Novo-Ogaryovo residence, where U.S. President George W. Bush also stayed.

It was with the political support of Spain that the Kaliningrad issue was put on the summit agenda, "because we think that the Russians were right to ask for it," Robles Fraga said.

The European Union has insisted that once Poland and Lithuania join the EU, expected in 2004, Russians traveling between Kaliningrad and the rest of the country will have to obtain a transit visa.

Russian officials say this would infringe on the rights of Russian citizens and limit their ability to travel across their own country.

"Some citizens could be refused such a visa, and then they'd basically be unable to leave [Kaliningrad], except by air," Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy, said in a telephone interview. "This worries us greatly, and this is the most crucial, the toughest issue for the upcoming summit."

Russia has proposed allowing its citizens to cross Lithuania without a visa, for instance to travel nonstop by train, as was done between West Germany and West Berlin.

The EU has said Russia must do more to prevent unregulated emigration. The Swedish ambassador to Russia, Sven Hirdman, said at a news conference on the issue Friday that Russia has not responded adequately to EU requests, specifically the right to expel Russian citizens, the replacement of Soviet identity documents with proper Russian passports and improved border controls between Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Success in solving these political problems and finding common ground on key economic issues is what European businessmen in Russia want to see. Although Europe accounts for 35 percent of Russian foreign trade and more than 50 percent of foreign direct investments, these figures do not reflect the real economic potential.

"If you look at the investment results, America is ahead of Europe in terms of figures," said Irene Commeau, managing director of the European Business Club. "But if you compare the efforts and remember all the TACIS programs that were financed by EU countries in Russia, they were quite big. So the ratio of efforts to results is worse for European companies than for American ones."

European countries account for about 50 percent of the $38 billion of accumulated foreign investment in Russia. Germany leads in terms of invested money, with more than $6 billion committed to different projects in Russia. France and Britain follow with about $4 billion invested by each country.

Commeau said there is no organized political support for business from the European Commission, while companies in Germany and the United States receive a lot of political support from their own governments. "We have 15 different countries and each of them supports its own companies, but we lack a single policy, which would be much stronger and would help a lot in such sensitive sectors as oil, gas or aviation," she said.

Europe could benefit from having its own chamber of commerce, as the United States does, Commeau said. "The EBC does not have any political support and no funding, as we were organized by subsidiaries of European companies working in Russia," she said.

Seppo Remes, president of Nafta Vostok Investment and chairman of the board of the EBC, agreed that the EU should play a bigger role. "The EU is just learning to find its place in this game and is still considering whether it should be doing this on a centralized basis or not," he said in an interview. "I think it should, because competition is increasing,"

The EBC has expressed its full support for the EU to grant Russia market economy status, regardless of the U.S. decision. European businesses here also think the EU could be more active in the negotiations with Russia on WTO conditions, Remes said.

Although business usually reacts faster to new opportunities, there is little chance for it to blossom without political support.

"There has to be a political decision made by the EU that Russian accession to a free trade zone is a top priority," Remes said. Europe has other priorities, which are the accession of new members. "But there should another priority, which is Russia. Russia is simply too big to be handled as an issue of secondary importance."

At this summit Remes said he expects the EU and Russia to face the problems openly and honestly. "The target is the next EU summit in Copenhagen [at the end of year], where we need to see real progress on all the issues, including WTO, the energy dialogue, market economy status and other new initiatives," he said.

Robles Fraga said the first step for the EU is to accept that Russia is a European country. "In the end, we are all interested in building a common economic space with common rules, common standards and more integrated economies," the Spanish ambassador said.

Loyola de Palacio, the European Commission's vice president responsible for energy and transport issues, said Russia and the European Union complement each other in the energy sphere.

During her meeting Tuesday with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, de Palacio said she plans to emphasize Europe's readiness to welcome the gas monopoly as an equal partner -- on the condition that European companies will be given fair treatment on Russian territory.

"Gazprom can be a full-fledged actor in the European market," de Palacio told journalists Monday. "It's a question of reciprocity and better integration of our economies."

Also on her agenda is the Energy Charter Treaty, a document that sets ground rules for transit, investment and market liberalization. Russia and 40 other countries signed the document in 1994, but the Duma has yet to ratify it.

Staff Writers Anna Raff and Torrey Clark contributed to this report.