Thursday

26th May 2016

EU to Russia: 'the euro will not fail'

Top EU officials Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso have told Russia that the euro is a safe bet.

The two men spoke alongside Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a press briefing after the 29th regular EU-Russia summit, held on Monday (4 June) in St Petersburg.

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  • Barroso (c) and Van Rompuy (r) at the EU-Russia plenary session on Monday (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Van Rompuy promised to publish a blueprint for deeper EU economic integration "by the end of this year" and predicted that eurozone GDP will grow between 1 and 3 percent in 2013.

"There is no way back for the euro, there is only the way ahead of more integration ... As for what happens if we fail, I will not answer hypothetical questions. We will not fail. We will not fail," he said.

Barroso revealed in a slip of the tongue that Greece - which may have to leave the euro - is on his mind, however.

Speaking about prospects for a new EU-Russia treaty, he said: "I am convinced that with the firm commitment of both sides we will achieve a balanced and ambitious agreement that will be beneficial both for Greece, sorry, for Russia, and for the European Union."

He underlined his ongoing attachment to German-style austerity, saying that "to achieve sustainable growth we need fiscal consolidation."

For his part, Putin praised the EU delegation for its "very determined ... very professional" approach to the crisis. "The outlook is very optimistic," he said.

Forty percent of Russia's foreign currency reserves are held in euros. The EU last year also imported €158 billion of Russian oil and gas.

Barroso and Putin politely disagreed with each other on energy and visa-free travel.

Putin said his energy champion, Gazprom, should not be forced to sell assets in Europe bought before the EU's so-called third energy package became law.

He noted "the ball is in the court of our European partners" on the visa deal and hinted that some member states are blocking it for political reasons.

Barroso replied that the energy laws - which are designed to stop firms such as Gazprom from dominating the market - "will be implemented" whether he likes it or not.

He said the main problem on visas are "technical issues," referring to Russia's non-compliance with EU norms on border security.

There was no repartee on Syria or human rights.

Van Rompuy mentioned in passing the EU wants "political transition" in Damascus. He did not call on Syrian leader Bashar Assad - Russia's ally - to step down or for Russia to agree to UN-level action.

He proposed that the autumn round of the EU-Russia human rights dialogue - behind-closed-doors meetings of mid-level EU and Russian diplomats - should for the first time be held in Russia instead of the EU.

The change is designed to make the talks more impactful. The EU's own officials have in the past lamented that the dialogue has no follow-up.

Neither Van Rompuy or Barroso mentioned Sergei Magnitsky, despite the fact Van Rompuy believes the case is "emblematic" for Russia's international reputation.

The whistleblower lawyer died in jail in 2009 after exposing a tax fraud mafia in the Kremlin.

Neither of the EU politicians challenged Putin when he said "there are no political motives" in the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovksy - another emblematic case, in which Putin's friends dismantled the country's biggest oil firm after its boss advocated reform.

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