October 26, 2007

Interview with Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the CFSP, for RIA Novosti

(23 October 2007)
16:33 | 25/ 10/ 2007
Interview with Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the CFSP, for RIA Novosti

1. How well are relations between Russia and the EU developing? In which of the four Common Spaces are they progressing the fastest: foreign policy and security, justice and internal security, economy and trade, or research, education and culture?

Russia remains the European Union's biggest and most important neighbour. The European Union and Russia agree that there is no alternative to a strategic partnership, and all our efforts aim at strengthening this partnership and giving it concrete expression.

EU-Russia relations are generally developing well across a broad range of sectors covered by the four Common Spaces. This should not be forgotten, especially as our relations have been negatively portrayed over recent months. As in any close relationship, problems arise and have to be addressed. Today, our mature relationship allows us to address such problems openly with our Russian partners.

Regarding foreign policy, Russia is beyond doubt a key partner with whom we work together very closely on crucial questions affecting international security, such as the Middle East, Iran, the Western Balkans, North Korea and the fight against terrorism. We are both members of key international forums and consult each other constantly on all these issues.

Of course, there is still scope for enhanced cooperation in all of the four Common Spaces. I would not want to single out a particular area in which we have achieved the best results, as by their nature the areas covered by the Common Spaces all have different dynamics. Our aim is to achieve a coherent and balanced approach across all four Common Spaces.

2. What do you expect from the EU-Russia summit in Portugal on October 26? Which issues in relations between them should be addressed as a priority?

As always, the Summit will provide the opportunity to assess progress and explore new initiatives. We had hoped to be able to launch negotiations on a new EU-Russia Agreement at the Mafra Summit, as this would mark the beginning of a qualitatively new phase for our strategic partnership. Regrettably this will not be possible, as there are still obstacles in the way, such as the Russian ban on imports of meat and plant products from Poland and the interruption of oil supplies to Lithuania via the Druzhba pipeline. Furthermore, we hope that the issue of the Siberian Overflights Agreement can be clarified and that we can find practical ways to further strengthen our cooperation in our neighbourhood.

3. Will the summit discuss Russia-EU energy cooperation, especially in view of the European Commission's draft documents limiting investment in the EU energy sector by "third countries"?

Energy will of course be on the table in Mafra. It remains an important component of our partnership. We are mutually interdependent, and this will continue to be the case. Russia is and will remain the EU's foremost external energy supplier, currently accounting for over 25% of gas and oil consumed in the EU. As for the EU, it is set to remain Russia's most important energy customer and foreign investor.

We hope that the details of an EU-Russia energy early warning mechanism, agreed in principle in Samara, can be finalised at the Mafra Summit. This mechanism will increase transparency and thus confidence and predictability in our energy relations.

Much is also happening in our internal debate on energy in the EU and I am sure that our Russian partners will be interested in discussing recent proposals with us, especially as there may have been some misunderstanding of what is being proposed. In general, though, we are happy with the intensive energy dialogue that we have, and that was established in 2000.

4. Are Russia and the EU moving closer to a visa-free regime? How well are they implementing the current visa facilitation and readmission agreements?

The entry into force on 1 June 2007 of the visa facilitation and readmission agreements between the EU and Russia mark an important step in our bilateral cooperation. Our citizens have already benefited considerably from the new visa regime that makes people-to-people contacts much easier than in the past. The task of the EU-Russia Joint Visa Facilitation Committee is to ensure that the implementation of the visa facilitation agreement will be full, correct and harmonised. In the framework of our visa dialogue, our experts are currently engaged in talks over the establishment of a visa-free regime as a long-term goal.

Regarding the readmission agreement, the first meeting of the Joint Readmission Committee took place in July this year. We hope that good progress can be made in the ongoing negotiations on bilateral implementation protocols.

5. The 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Russia and the EU will expire this year, but talks on a new agreement have been blocked by Poland over the Russian embargo on the import of Polish meat and plant products. What steps can the EU and Russia take to start working on the new agreement? Don't you think that Poland is hindering the talks by denying Russian experts access to its enterprises until the lifting of the embargo?

The EU has been in contact with the Russian Ministry of Agriculture over the issue of the Russian ban on Polish meat and plant products. Russian as well as European inspectors have already carried out extensive inspection visits to Poland. The EU attaches high priority to food safety and our veterinary and phytosanitary controls are very strict. We therefore hope that Russia will soon be able to lift the ban.

6. The EU is one of the parties discussing the future status of Kosovo. Do the EU member states agree on the issue of Kosovo's independence? What is the EU's stance? Is the Kosovo problem on the agenda of the upcoming EU-Russia Summit?
Kosovo is very much a European issue and we, in the European Union, are very much aware of our responsibilities in the efforts to find a solution. We fully support the negotiations, which are being led by a troika, of which both the EU and Russia are members, together with the US. The troika so far has been very successful in forging a common approach to these negotiations. We continue to encourage the parties to go beyond their initial positions in order to try to reach an agreed solution. Kosovo will indeed be discussed during the Summit.

7. How could EU-Russia relations change over the next 15 years?

Although there are always difficulties and challenges, I remain optimistic about our relations and believe that the EU and Russia will continue to grow together and extend their strategic partnership. In 15 years time, we should have managed to solve the remaining conflicts and outstanding issues on the European continent, and be even better equipped to find solutions to the world's most acute problems. Today, it is our duty to lay the foundations to enable this to happen.

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