22nd Mar 2019

No 'deliverables' at upcoming EU-Russia summit

  • The last EU-Russia summit in Brussels in December - the main 'deliverable' was the signature of a non-binding memorandum on Russia's WTO entry (Photo:

EU institutions would like to clip one of the two yearly Russia summits due to lack of content, but decorum forbids making the first move.

"We have signs from the Russians that if we suggested it [canceling one of the events], they would accept it. And we have given signs to them that if they made the suggestion, we would accept it. But nobody wants to come out with the proposal," a senior EU diplomat told EUobserver.

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The contact noted that the twice-yearly format is out of date because of the Lisbon Treaty.

It was originally created to give each six-month-rotating EU presidency a chance to set the agenda on EU-Russia relations. But the summits are now prepared by post-Lisbon creature EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy and the leader of the EU presidency country does not go.

"It is hard to find deliverables every six months," the EU diplomat said, using diplomatic jargon for agenda items such as signed-and-sealed agreements.

Van Rompuy, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, their staff and assorted commissioners will on 9 June fly the 2,600 km from Brussels to Nizhny Novgorod in western Russia to agree to nothing concrete.

The EU delegation aims to press Russia to let the Party of People's Freedom register as a contender for elections next year. The justice ministry is due to rule on its application in late June, with the movement for the first time bringing together opposition figureheads such as Boris Nemstov and Ilya Yashin.

The summit will issue a joint progress report on the Partnership for Modernisation - a personal brainchild of Barroso designed to swap EU know-how on high-end technology for Russian reforms. The two sides are seeking to identify specific projects to make the partnership a reality. But lack of confidence in the rule of law in Russia means there is little appetite among EU companies and member states for high-end investments.

The Nizhny Novgorod meeting will also see talks on Russia's preparations to enter the World Trade Organisation (WTO), prospects for EU-Russia visa-free travel and a new strategic partnership treaty.

Russia's WTO bid is in the "endgame" phase, but the EU still has concerns about "protectionism" in some sectors, the EU senior diplomat noted.

The two sides will by 9 June agree on "common steps towards a possible visa-free travel regime" but there will be no time for member states to ratify the plan and actual visa-free travel remains a distant prospect due to probelms with Russian passport security and customs-sector corruption.

Negotiations on the strategic pact are "not going well at all," the senior EU diplomat said. The legal basis for EU-Russia relations is currently set out in a relic of the immediate post-Soviet era, the 1994 Partnership and Co-operation Agreement.

Another EU diplomatic source said that lower-level meetings - such as recent EU-Russia talks on visas, cyber security and counter-terrorism, organised by the Hungarian EU presidency and the justice and home affairs wing of the European Commission - are more useful than the summits.

With over 40 bilateral events each year, the EU meets with Russia more often than any other third country.

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