Friday

18th Oct 2019

EU and Russia hold 'Vegetable Summit'

  • Medvedev: 'We had tomatoes, different tomatoes. I don't know the origin' (Photo: jugbo)

Russia said it will again import EU vegetables at a summit on Friday (10 June), an event better-replaced by a video-conference or an exchange of position papers according to one commentator.

EU presidents Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso took two separate planes to fly the 2,600 km from Brussels to Nizhny-Novgorod in an unusual move which cost the European Commission at least €55,000 extra.

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In a sign of how afar apart the two sides are in terms of basic political values, Human Rights Watch reports that Russian police intimidated a group of around 10 local activists in the run-up to the event by phoning them up or calling them in for questioning to warn them against organising any protests.

Authorities cancelled at the last minute a 9 June press conference to be held by Russian NGOs in the so-called EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. One of the forum's leaders also had her car number plates stolen - putting her at risk of arrest - and her credit cards blocked.

Van Rompuy - the EU's top foreign policy representative, and a poet - began his press briefing by recalling "the magical sunset over the Volga yesterday evening." He added that "the EU-Russia relationship is enjoying its best dynamics for years."

He later noted "there are still strong concerns" in EU member states about human rights in Russia.

For his part, Barroso several times underlined the importance of the rule of law in Russia if EU investors are to really get behind the 'Partnership for Modernisation' (PfM) - his personal plan for swapping high-end EU technology in return for reforms. Barroso's remarks came on a day when a masked gunman shot six times and killed a Russian colonel on one of Moscow's busiest streets during the morning rush hour.

The PfM appears to be making progress behind the scenes despite the lack of reform.

Barroso said the European Investment Bank (EIB) is getting ready to put €2 billion of loans into the project. The EU is taking an interest in Russia's Soyuz space programme and Russia is to play a part in the EU's Galileo global positioning system.

Fraser Cameron, the head of the EU-Russia Centre, a think-tank in Brussels, noted that rolling out the PfM and other Nizhny-Novgorod agenda items, such as voicing political will to move ahead on WTO talks and visa-free talks, are not really summit-level issues.

"Arguably, the two sides could save a huge amount of time and money by holding a video conference or even just exchanging position papers. In an age of government austerity, excessive debt and budget cuts, the public would surely applaud the move," he said in a written statement.

Cameron dubbed the event 'The Vegetable Summit' because of a mini-drama involving E. coli.

Russia one week before the meeting blocked imports of all EU vegetables after an outbreak in Germany. Its EU ambassador two days before the summit put media on the edge of their seats by saying the ban will probably stay in place when leaders meet. Medvedev on Friday then dropped the measures in return for unspecified EU "guarantees."

Asked by one Russian reporter if he ate any EU vegetables during the event, Medvedev said: "We did have vegetables today and yesterday. Just now over lunch we had tomatoes, different tomatoes. I don't know the origin."

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