Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dynamism and Will at the EU-Russia Summit

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Reading the op-ed piece by Mikhail Margelov in The Moscow Times on Wednesday, one might be tempted to believe that the unprecedented EU-Russia summit in St. Petersburg on May 31, a summit in which all 25 current and future member states of the European Union were represented -- almost all by heads of state -- was a mere sideshow to other meetings that took place during the 300th anniversary of the great city.

In fact, the EU and Russia have now charted a clear medium- to long-term course for the future development of relations through the decision to create a common economic space (where work is already well under way), a common space of freedom, security and justice, a common space of cooperation in the field of external security, and common research and education space, including cultural aspects. This landmark decision lays the groundwork for the further integration of Russia into Europe and compliments the European Commission's ideas of creating a "Wider Europe" comprising a ring of friends around the European Union, where our neighbors will share in the European Union's single market and the freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital.

Far from being "distracted from working out a balanced common position on relations with Russia," the EU has come to a clear understanding with Russia on the goals to be attained in our future relations.

Of course we now have to implement the ideas adopted by our political leaders; the challenge is to fill out the "spaces" with integration projects designed to give a concrete dimension to the overall framework. We are not starting from scratch; already much work has been done to prepare the concept of a common European economic space that should be adopted at the next EU-Russia summit in Rome in November.

Regarding Russia's strong desire to promote visa-free travel between the EU and Russia, the EU is ready to begin examining this long-term issue in conjunction with all other relevant factors impinging upon the movement of people, such as the need to conclude a readmission agreement providing for the repatriation of persons found without proper documentation on each others' territory; the need to strengthen the quality and reliability of travel documents; the need to improve the infrastructure and efficiency of border crossings; the need to work together in the fight against organized crime and illegal immigration. We might also usefully begin by taking a critical look at the quality of the respective services offered by our respective consular services when citizens apply for visas. Throughout this discussion the EU will be motivated above all by the need to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. This does not mean however that we have in mind the imposition of a new iron or "Schengen" curtain; the opposite is true. We wish to encourage the movement of people between our nations to create a wider Europe without dividing lines.

During the discussions leading up to the summit both sides also reflected on the existing institutional relationship -- is it adequate for the type of partnership we are now envisaging? A consensus was reached that for the time being we should seek to maximize the opportunities afforded by the existing Partnership and Cooperation Agreement of 1994.

This being said, we have introduced an innovation into our existing arrangements. At the suggestion of the EU side we have replaced the ministerial-level Cooperation Council with a Permanent Partnership Council, which should meet more frequently in different ministerial formations (not just foreign ministers) in order to make decisions on outstanding issues and to enable summit meetings between leaders to become, as President Vladimir Putin said, more focused.

Another important feature of the EU-Russia summit in St. Petersburg was the strong desire of European and Russian leaders to see St. Petersburg take its rightful place as a pre-eminent city in the Baltic Sea area, an integral part of the Baltic Sea environment, which is so important to all countries neighboring this sea. This means in turn Russia fully taking up its responsibilities in the environmental sphere. One of the themes of the summit was the strongly held view of a number of EU and future EU member state leaders that Russia should join the EU in banning the transport of heavy fuel oil in single-hull tankers to and from ports in Europe. This is an urgent task; a marine catastrophe analogous to last year's Prestige disaster off the coast of Spain would have devastating consequences if it occurred in the Baltic Sea.

However, the EU is not just concerned about the marine environment but also about global warming. We are waiting for Russia to adhere to its commitment to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which it accepted at last year's conference on sustainable development in Johannesburg. Without Russia's ratification of this important protocol, it cannot enter into force. We are looking forward to the Russian government presenting implementing measures to the State Duma in the nearest future so that ratification can be assured before the conference on climate change that Russia will host in September.

As we build the "spaces" that will form the backbone of future relations between the EU and Russia, we need also to take care of a lot of current business that remains uncompleted. Russia's accession to the WTO is a priority for both Russia and the EU, and steady if slow progress is being made in our bilateral negotiations on market access for goods and services. As Russia's most important trading and investing partner -- the proportion of Russia's trade with the EU will rise further to more than 50 percent of the total after the new member states join in May 2004 -- it is the EU that is in the pivotal position with regard to Russia's application. I am confident that compromises on the most difficult issues remaining will be found.

An integrated Europe without dividing lines was the leitmotif of the EU-Russia summit. The enlarged European Union with 25 countries, an integrated market functioning according to common rules and regulations, with over 450 million people and an extensive border with Russia offers to Russia the prospect of expanded trade, investment and interaction. We now need to create the common spaces that will give effect to these ambitions and provide the framework for the freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital.

I would not characterize these results as ones naturally associated with a "distracted Europe," "lacking in will" to solve problems with Russia and with a "sluggish bureaucracy." Focus, will and dynamism would depict the reality more accurately.

Richard Wright, head of the European Commission delegation in Russia, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.