RUSSIA-EU: PROBLEMATIC MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE?


27.11.06
MOSCOW. (Yekaterina Kuznetsova for RIA Novosti)
When Finland assumed the Presidency of the European Union six months ago, it listed progress in relations with Russia among the three priorities of its “reign” in united Europe. The Russia-EU summit in Helsinki last Friday showed that this is too much of a challenge for Finnish diplomacy.
It has been a long time since the EU received such a slap in the face from its own member – on November 13, Poland denied to the EU negotiators a mandate for talks on a new agreement on partnership and cooperation with Russia.
The results of the summit are as follows: Russia has agreed to gradually reduce and eventually phase out payment for Siberian overflights; the EU has qualified Russia’s embargo on Polish meat imports as excessive and inappropriate; and Russia has joined the European Northern Dimension initiative.
Northern Dimension is the most indicative result of the summit. In effect, for the first time Russia took part in the EU program for a specific region. Before, the EU efforts to involve Russia in European undertakings ended in failure. In response to the criticism of four common spaces for being abstract and non-binding, European diplomats like to recall that Russia was offered to join European policy of good neighborly relations, which has been elaborated specifically for the post-Soviet republics. Russia refused to be part of it in the belief that it was worth a separate program.
It seems that the Northern Dimension guarantees equal partnership to Russia because it has been joined by Norway and Iceland, which are not EU members. However, if cooperation in the protection of the environment can become reality (Europe believes that the Kola Peninsular and Novaya Zemlya are too polluted with nuclear waste, and is already investing in the effort to “clean” them), there should be no illusions about partnership in health care or social security.
It would be great to achieve progress in the implementation of the Northern Dimension – the Russian projects of building new sewage facilities in St. Petersburg, a fast railway linking the latter with Helsinki, and creating a cross-border system for monitoring the biological and landscape diversity of the region are very tempting. But we should not forget that Norway is almost a EU member that contributes 800 million Euros to its budget every year. In this context, it would be naĐve to expect the EU to fund anything else except nuclear safety.
Without counting on any major decisions, the EU has achieved everything it wanted. Russia has promised to abolish duties for Siberian overflights, and has gained nothing. The EU has not changed a single word in the Energy Charter, having thereby confirmed its intention to liberalize the gas market (without Gazprom’s participation, of course).
The EU has rendered public support to Poland in the “meat scandal”, and now the Kremlin will have to wait patiently for the EU to adopt a common position, that is, until the first session of the WTO appeals panel since Russia’s WTO entry is not far off.
At the same time, Russia’s intentions as regards the EU remain rather vague. On the eve of the summit President Vladimir Putin went on the record as saying that Russia was not going to join the EU. But the exchange of experience, dialogues, and branch cooperation he mentioned boil down to Russia’s borrowing from the European experience and practice. For instance, dialogue in the sphere of law stands for the EU commission’s funding of upgrading courses for Russian judges (currently being held in four Russian regions). One of the goals is to reduce the number of appeals by Russians to the European Court of Human Rights.
Russia’s reluctance to join the EU does not mean that it should not become closer to Europe. For this reason, Moscow and the EU should concentrate on fundamental problems, such as visa-free travel, or mutual access of oil and gas companies to each other’s markets.

Yekaterina Kuznetsova is a political scientists-0-