Thursday

27th Apr 2017

Visas, human rights on EU-Russia agenda this WEEK

  • Putin (r) created a celebrity-type buzz the last time he was in Brussels (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The signature of a small-time visa deal is likely to form the centrepiece of Russian leader Vladimir Putin's visit to Brussels.

The so-called upgraded visa facilitation agreement (VFA) is designed to reduce paperwork and delays for some classes of Russian citizens, such as officials, academics and businessmen.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The EU foreign service told this website the pact has been "held back" by Russia's last minute request to allow visa-free travel for its officials "which we have not been able to agree." But it added: "We should sign the upgraded VFA as it stands now."

What Russia really wants is visa-free travel for everybody.

The EU recently sent two delegations to Russia to see what it is doing to meet technical standards on issues such as border control. But the foreign service noted that "information gathering will need to be followed by reforms" and that the EU is not yet ready to start negotiations on a visa-free pact.

In one way, the real centrepiece will be Putin's presence in the EU capital.

He will attend a dinner with top EU officials Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday (20 December) and a working meeting on Friday.

The last time he came, in February 2011, he created a celebrity buzz in the European Commission, with lots of EU officials who do not work on Russia crowding into the commission's press room to see him up close.

Putin and Barroso at the time clashed on EU laws designed to limit the power of Russian energy champion Gazprom.

In the meantime, Barroso has opened a competition probe into alleged Gazprom price-fixing which could see it fined billions of euros and forced to renegotiate contracts.

But the big issue behind the scenes this time around is human rights.

Putin since coming back to power has passed several laws to make life harder for civil society, including the "foreign agents" act, which stigmatizes NGOs that receive foreign money and makes activists more vulnerable to harassment.

He has also been embarrassed by the US on Sergei Magnitsky.

US President Barack Obama on Friday signed the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which is to see it publish in the next 120 days the names of Russian officials under a visa ban and asset freeze due to their links to the murder of the anti-corruption activist in 2009.

The EU is becoming more hawkish on Magnitsky even though it shows no sign of following the US sanctions for now.

Its foreign relations spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic used bold language in criticising Russia in a statement to EUobserver last week.

She said: "The very limited steps taken so far (charges against one prison doctor; charges against a second prison doctor dropped due to a statute of limitation) are not adequate given the scope of this case and the available documentation."

She also said: "The posthumous prosecution of Sergei Magnitsky, as well as the persecution of his mother who has been asked to testify against her own dead son, are very worrying developments."

For its part, Russia in a pre-emptive move two weeks ago published a 66-page-long dossier of human rights problems in the EU.

But for Russian activists, such as Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the 85-year-old founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Kremlin posturing should not be allowed to create a distraction.

"There is nothing more important the EU could possibly need to talk about with the Russian leadership than the future of the rule of law in its neighbor and strategic partner," she said in an op-ed in the New York Times at the weekend.

"However difficult it is to confront Putin on human rights today, try to imagine what it will be like to discuss these issues a few years from now, when either the crackdown has become even more intense or the path of repression results in a real social explosion," she added.

Moment of truth on tobacco

In other business, the commission will on Wednesday adopt a draft new tobacco control bill.

The law is at the centre of a controversy on tobacco lobbying. Former EU health commissioner, Malta's John Dalli, lost his job over allegedly soliciting a bribe in order to fiddle a ban on sales of mouth tobacco outside Sweden.

His replacement, Tonio Borg, will face extra scrutiny by pro-health NGOs who worry the directive might be watered down.

Meanwhile, EU ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss the environment on Monday, fish on Monday and Tuesday, and transport and telecommunications on Thursday and Friday. The environment talks will discuss a new plan on protecting EU water resources, while the fish meeting will try to reach a deal to protect cod.

The European Parliament will be in end-of-year mode, hosting meetings with Cypriot ministers to discuss Cyprus' performance as the EU presidency country over the past six months.

MEPs will vote on Monday on whether to make the EU's common database of asylum seekers' fingerprints available to national police forces. Deputies, officials and EU countries' diplomats will the same day debate a new scheme to give asylum seekers extra rights on healthcare and temporary EU residence.

Investigation

Cyprus launches probe into Russian mafia money

Cyprus has opened an investigation into evidence that stolen Russian tax money linked to the murder of Sergei Magnitsky was laundered through its banks.

Russia attacks EU on human rights record

Xenophobia, racism, and neo-Nazism are among a long list of human rights violations frequently committed in the EU, according to a report released by the Russian Federation on Thursday.

Dont expect 'quick fix' in Syria, China tells EU

Beijing special envoy on the Syrian conflict said in Brussels that "imposing" a solution from the outside would "not be workable" and that the peace process will not be "smooth sailing".

Russia suspected of Macron hack

Likely Russian spies tried to steal email passwords from Macron's people the same way they hacked US elections, new study says.

Russia suspected of Macron hack

Likely Russian spies tried to steal email passwords from Macron's people the same way they hacked US elections, new study says.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament moves to lift Le Pen's immunity
  2. EU Commission launches probe into Hungary's university law
  3. Scots slowly losing appetite for independence - poll
  4. Council of Europe puts Turkey on watch list
  5. EU to put parental leave on political agenda
  6. Israel cancels German meeting over human rights groups
  7. Hungary's Orban will participate in EU parliament debate
  8. Malta floats cash-for-refugees plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  3. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  6. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  7. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  8. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  10. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  11. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  12. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children

Latest News

  1. Brexit is about Europe's future as well
  2. Power struggle in Greenland: Three reasons why the EU should care
  3. Nordic and Baltic countries step up digitalisation efforts
  4. European states still top media freedom list
  5. Let’s not put European public health at risk
  6. Threatened Budapest university calls for EU support
  7. Orban set to face down EU threats
  8. Dont expect 'quick fix' in Syria, China tells EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  2. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  3. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  6. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  7. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  8. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  9. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  11. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  12. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal