Saturday

23rd Jul 2016

Congeniality dinner opens EU-Russia summit

  • Putin (r) and Barroso (l) shake hands at Val Duchesse on Thursday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his EU hosts avoided the prickly subjects - human rights, energy - at dinner in a stately home in Brussels on Thursday (20 December).

The event, hosted by EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso, took place in the Val Duchesse estate on the outskirts of the EU capital, prior to official talks in the Council building on Friday morning.

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.

An EU source said the VIPs talked about the Arab Spring, Iran, the Middle East Peace Process, Syria and the economic crisis, but in general terms only.

Amid speculation if Russia thinks the Syrian regime is about to fall, Putin reportedly said that "Syria is about to face a transformation" and asked questions on "What will happen the day after? What is the real nature of the people in the opposition?"

For their part, Van Rompuy and Barroso told him about the EU's latest anti-crisis actions.

"Putin showed, I think, true appreciation of the EU measures and he talked a bit about the need to re-industrialise the Russian economy," the EU source noted.

"It provided a good atmosphere for the summit today ... They did not speak about any of the conflictual issues, such as human rights, energy, WTO [World Trade Organisation]. These will be discussed today," the contact said, referring to Russian trade barriers in some areas despite its joining the world trade body earlier this year.

"For the European councils, we tend to do it the other way around, we tackle the more sensitive issues at the informal dinners," the EU source added.

Russia's shortcomings on human rights are a regular issue in the twice-yearly meetings.

The current summit comes after a series of new Russian laws to crack down on civil society and just a few days after the US ratified the Magnitsky Act - a bill to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials linked to the killing in 2009 of an anti-corruption activist.

On energy, the meeting comes after Barroso launched a price-fixing probe into Putin's energy champion, Gazprom, which could lead to a multi-billion-euro fine.

The heads of the four largest pan-European political parties - the centre-right EPP, the centre-left PES, the Liberals and the Greens - in an open letter to Van Rompuy and Barroso on Thursday said "we hope you will not be mincing words" with Putin on rights.

But the short summit has plenty of other subjects on the agenda.

Maja Kocijancic, the EU foreign affairs spokeswoman, told EUobserver it will look at progress on a new EU-Russia "partnership and co-operation" agreement, as well as visa facilitation and a string of other issues.

"We hope for good progress across a range of areas including ... satellite navigation co-operation; science co-operation; civil protection; counter-terrorism co-operation; the Northern Dimension Partnership on the transport and logistics fund; and on geographical indications for alcoholic beverages," she said.

Meanwhile, Putin and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov took a defensive line on rights in remarks to press earlier on Thursday.

Putin at a media conference in Moscow called one Russian reporter a "sadomasochist" for questioning plans to ban US citizens from adopting Russian children in retaliation for the Magnitsky law.

Amid activists' hopes the US legislation will prompt similar EU action, Lavrov said in an interview with the Euronews broadcaster that the US bill is "unnecessary and counterproductive."

He added the EU has human rights problems of its own.

"It is shameful and intolerable that ethnic Russians are denied citizenship in Europe, the cradle of Christian civilisation ... We are concerned about the lax attitude to attempts to present Nazis as heroes, rewrite history, discriminate against WWII veterans [in some eastern European countries]," he said.

Putin in his press conference also said: "I would not describe Russia's political system as authoritarian - this is the wrong term."

But one of his local chief's reactions to questions on instability in North Caucasus went in the opposite direction.

The reporter, from the Kadyrov's Path newspaper, asked Putin why Islamist violence has flared up again in the region.

The questions did not go down well with Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin's top man in Chechnya, who dubbed them "provocative" and shut down the publication a few hours after the Putin briefing ended.

MEPs fear further 'Putinisation' of Turkey

MEPs criticised the harsh crackdown in Turkey after last week's failed coup, and warned that Ankara must not go down the road towards an authoritarian regime, in an extraordinary meeting of the EP's foreign affairs committee.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Belgrade Security ForumMigration, Security and Solidarity within Global Disorder: Academic Event Agenda for 2016
  2. GoogleHow Google Fights Piracy: Creating Value While Fighting Piracy
  3. EJC"My Visit to Israel" - Opinion by MEP Lopez Aguilar, Chair of the EP Working Group on Antisemitism
  4. World VisionChildren Migrating, Out of School and at Work as Hunger Deepens in Southern Africa
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStand-Up (and Exercise) to Prevent Chronic Diseases
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersLaunches a Real-time News Hub Specialised in EU Stakeholders
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for International Probe Into Turkey Coup Allegations
  8. GoogleEU-US Privacy Shield: Restoring Faith in Data Flows and Transatlantic Relations
  9. World VisionWorld Leaders & Youth Advocates Launch Partnership to End Violence Vs. Children
  10. Counter BalanceReport: Institutionalised Corruption in Romania's Third Largest Company
  11. Access NowEuropol Supports Encryption. We Can Relax Now… Right?
  12. GoogleLearn about Google's projects across Europe on Twitter @GoogleBrussels

Latest News

  1. Munich attack might not have been terrorism
  2. A very British (and Corbynite) coup
  3. Poland 'changing for the worse' for Muslims and refugees
  4. EU aims to lift visas on Turks despite purge
  5. ECB in ‘bail-out’ of scandal-tainted VW
  6. EU failed to learn lesson from Brexit, Poland says
  7. UK accord on EU workers 'crucial', France says
  8. EU and US take different lines on Turkey crackdown