Wednesday

15th Aug 2018

Franco-German plan sees visa free travel for Russians

Just weeks after EU states were asked to forge a common position on Russia, the French and German governments have set out their own vision of how relations should develop.

The EUobserver has learned that EU diplomats recently received a Franco-German blueprint for relations with Russia - the third plan of its kind to come before them in as many weeks.

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Russia’s deft exploitation of intra-EU divisions in the past has prompted the Union to try and forge a common position, but so far, it seems, to no avail.

Splits over how to solve splits

In a sign of the EU’s difficulties, the 15-page Franco-German ‘non-paper’ contrasts markedly with the hard-line approach taken by the Commission and the Irish presidency who recently produced similar reports.

The Franco-German proposal would see Russia offered a path to visa free travel as well as an increased decision-making role in European defence.

France has made no secret of its displeasure at the hard line that some in the EU have sought to pursue with Moscow.

When foreign ministers last month warned Russia against failing to extend a bilateral trade deal to the new EU members, French President Jacques Chirac said some member states should "show more respect".

Mr Chirac has long courted Russia as part of his drive for a ‘multi-polar world’ and has sought to use his influence in Moscow as a lever in Europe.

Compatible

The French, however, are keen to portray the document as "food for thought" - compatible with previous plans, while helping to plot the next steps in more detail.

One French spokesperson told this news-site that initial reactions to the plan had been "very positive".

However not everyone is so upbeat.

Many diplomats say they are uneasy with the plan - particularly those ex-Iron Curtain countries.

Some describe the French approach as being flawed, with Paris failing to understand the way Russia works.

"You have to look not at what Russia accepts at negotiations, but how they implement the deals" said one diplomat.

The French and German governments hope the plan - which covers the four thematic areas of the economy; research education and culture; security, justice and home affairs; and energy and the environment - will be taken up at the EU-Russia summit in June.

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