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Published:July 9th, 2007 06:02 EST
Speech by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov

Speech by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov

By SOP newswire

Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen,

Esteemed Colleagues,

I would like first to thank for the invitation to address this meeting. I am certain that the establishment of links with business, in particular with the RUIE, is an earnest of success in our further work on strengthening cooperation with the European Union.

The European Union is our major economic and political partner. We are bound by common culture, history, economy and consonant approaches toward the main array of international issues, above all in the field of the formation of a new world pattern and the reinforcement of international security. We are interested in a strong EU – this would impart greater sustainability to the international system. It is also our immediate neighbor, the world’s largest economic association, a priority market for Russia and a source of investment and of new technologies.

To date, our country firmly holds third place among the trade partners of the EU, after the US and China. In turn, the EU accounts for 52% of our total exports and about 70% of the accumulated foreign capital in the Russian economy.

Our interdependence shows itself most vividly in the energy sector. Russia is the major supplier of natural gas to the EU. We account for about 44% of its imports or 24% of the total gas consumed in the EU. Since 2000 the volume of Russian oil export to the EU has been steadily growing, both in proportional and absolute terms. Russia ranks second in supplies of oil and oil products to the countries of the European Union. By the year 2030, according to the EU’s own forecasts, its dependence on external supply of gas will rise to 81%, and of oil to 93% of total consumption. We have no doubts that the EU can’t do without Russia in this respect.

We have been closely watching the discussions in the European Union on energy security. As a supplier Russia is, of course, interested in a steady demand for its energy resources. We cannot fail to note the fact that some hotheads declare that the strategic task of the EU is to give up Russian oil and gas or reduce their proportion to a minimum. We firmly believe that our energy interdependence is a cementing factor of the established relations and this factor ought to be regarded as a thing of positive value and not as a threat. It is gratifying that European entrepreneurs too understand this.

The interest of Russian investors in the European market has also been steadily growing over the last few years, which attests to a qualitative change both in the Russian economy and in the strategic thinking of our national business. All this suggests that it is necessary to build a truly strategic – equal and mutually advantageous – partnership with the European Union.

I cannot agree with the assumption that our relations with the EU have reached their lowest point and are currently in crisis. That’s how those speculate who from the entire diversity of events contrive to see only some negative aspects or reduce the array of our ties with the EU to contacts with – may Marc Franco forgive me – the Brussels bureaucracy. Actually these relations in their totality are developing quite successfully. The roadmaps of the four common spaces, approved in 2005, are being implemented. We are actively cooperating in the framework of sectoral dialogues. Quite recently another – on regional politics – was launched, and it had not even been planned initially. I think that regional cooperation, with the right approach towards it, will over time become one of the priorities in application of joint efforts. The experience of the development of the European Union itself is evidence in favor of this.

As you know, the visa facilitation and readmission agreements took effect on June 1, thus substantially easing the travel for Russian citizens in Europe. At the Russia-EU May summit in the Samara Region we agreed on the start of serious work designed to ensure arrival at a visa-free regime.

I would like analysts and journalists to pay more attention to the real movement forward and not be obsessed by problems, although we are perfectly aware that the media most readily print what sells better. And to sell the negative to the public is the simplest thing.

We call on the politicians to do the same. Incidentally, the Samara Summit passed in a businesslike, frank and benevolent atmosphere. It was reaffirmed that Russia and the EU had no acceptable alternative to building a strategic partnership, and that all the existing contradictions could be tackled via a patient and respectful dialogue.

Of course, the slack – or stagnation – in the negotiations on a new basic agreement does reflect on our relationship. We regret that a purely technical matter had been transferred by the European Union onto a political plane, which eventually prevented the European Union from approving its own, essentially already agreed-upon, mandate. So in order to cope with their internal difficulties the partners need some additional time to sort things out, in particular understand the principle of solidarity within the EU better, which serves as a universal lock-pick to solve any problems. We see the chief – deep-going – cause of this in the processes under way within the European Union.

For a long time we got used to dealing with a relatively small group of states that adhered to a pragmatic, well-considered course in foreign policy and were able for the achievement of a compromise to waive something important for them if a final package would generally meet the interests of all the participants. It was according to this logic that the EU evolved until 2004. At the close of the 80s – the beginning of the 90s of the last century, a political decision was taken on a “dramatic” eastward enlargement of the European Union. Probably, few people at the moment could precisely figure out all the implications of this move. But the process was launched – in 2004 the EU admitted ten new members. It turned out that some of the “novices” brought to the EU a “baggage” of historical grievances and syndromes, a new manner of behavior characterized by uncompromising and ultimatum-like attitudes. Addressing my EU colleagues, I want to stress that now I only state the facts without any emotions.

Russia, as you know, always responded favorably to the EU enlargement, as distinct from the enlargement of NATO. But it has to be admitted that elements of distrust and suspicion towards the new, democratic Russia in a number of Central and Eastern European countries not only have not disappeared, but also in some places – let us be frank – are being cultivated almost as one of the bases of EU foreign policy.

The enlargement of 2004 has also led to the fact that the European Union has become less governable; the process of the coordination of positions has slowed down and become complicated, sometimes excruciatingly so. This kind of situation, naturally, does not suit us – we want a strong European Union (recall Kissinger’s phrase). We expect that the EU leaders will find a mechanism enabling more clearly articulating and consistently implementing the strategic interests of the European Union, and seeing in them a strategic perspective, without frittering away their energies. But be that as it may, a gap has obviously emerged recently between the dynamically evolving ties of Russia with individual EU member states and the general course of relations with the European Union. Thus, over the last year we agreed quite a few long-term projects with Italy, Germany, Austria, Greece, France, Hungary and other European states. In contrast, the bodies of the European Union as a whole are rather inclined to approach us with all manner of demands and claims than discuss bolstering the framework of strategic partnership.

The European Council at the level of heads of state and government held in June is another testimony to the difficulties plaguing the EU transformation. Its chief question was a revision of the European Constitution that did not get approval in the referendums in France and the Netherlands. The decisions made by the European Council are neither explicit nor final. Ahead is the intergovernmental conference whose holding fell on the shoulders of the current Portuguese presidency. We predict that Portugal and the other EU member countries and the European Commission will be almost totally absorbed in this process. Probably not as much time will be left for other matters as one would like.

This, of course, does not relieve us of responsibility for persistent and purposeful work with the partners to launch appropriate negotiations. We are ready for them – the directives for the Russian delegation were approved as early as November last year; Vladimir Chizhov, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the EU, has been charged to lead it. At the same time, I am certain that now, by acting according to the “every cloud has a silver lining” principle, we must seize upon the pause in order to prepare for negotiations even more thoroughly and determine the mechanism of interaction with Russian business. We count on you also doing some work more closely with the business community of the European Union, whose opinion the European capitals always heed. The aim is to clarify our approaches and tasks in relations with the EU and show that the suspicions toward Russia are groundless.

We do not dramatize the fact that negotiations on a new agreement have not yet begun. Excessive moaning and emphasis on this, I firmly believe, would not meet the interests of Russia and the European Union. After all, for all the importance of this matter our relations are not limited to it. I am convinced that we will await when the EU resolves its internal problems and is ready for a substantive dialogue.

In working out approaches to a future agreement which we would like to call a strategic partnership treaty, we sought most carefully to take into consideration the opinion of Russian business. Appropriate consultations were held in their time with leading business associations of Russia, including the RUIE. In this connection I would like to especially stress that in order to effectively uphold the economic interests of the country a consolidated position of the Russian business community is important. We note with satisfaction the consolidation of contacts between the Foreign Ministry and Russian business circles. Ever more often, requests to us from national business are becoming a subject of political dialogue with the EU. Last October I met under the auspices of our Business Council with leaders of major Russian companies and their associations. In the center of the exchange of views were also our relations with the European Union, as well as interaction by the Foreign Ministry with Russian business interested in developing cooperation with the EU.

For its part, the European business community also shows an active interest in a new agreement and in how soon its elaboration will begin. Therefore we feel that, in this regard, it is necessary first of all to activate the existing format of coordination of the positions of the business circles of Russia and the EU – the Industrialists’ Round Table and the Business Cooperation Council which has been formed within its framework. We hope that the business community will succeed in arriving at a consolidated position and conveying it to the leaderships of Russia and the European Union and also – which is of no small importance – to the Russian and European publics. In particular, the results of the work of the Russia-European Union Industrialists’ Round Table on the eve of the Russia-EU summit in Helsinki in 2006 give grounds for this. We support the idea of holding a similar meeting on the eve of the upcoming summit, which will take place in Portugal in October. Let us work on this.

The atmosphere of the Russia-EU Samara meeting at the highest level was favorably influenced by the appeal to its participants from the Business Cooperation Council in favor of economic integration, the earliest possible completion of the negotiations on Russia’s WTO accession and start of negotiations on a new agreement. We regard this as a good example of collective action by the business circles of Russia and the European Union. Such a contribution would also be extremely necessary at present, as in all subsequent stages, I believe.

The new treaty is called upon to form the basis for developing the Russia-EU strategic partnership in all fields. Therefore, in our opinion, it must set forth mechanisms and encompass basic areas and goals of cooperation. Although necessarily a spacious document, it should formulate the main guidelines for cooperation in general terms, without excessive detailing. The chief thing is to show what this is done for and to disclose the possible methods and vehicles for achieving the objectives set. At the same time, the treaty must have a legally binding character. Being a framework in meaning and content, it could incorporate provisions enabling supplementing it in the future with a system of sectoral agreements, as well as contain references to the already existing and planned agreements.

We presume that the agreement will record the available long-term arrangements with the EU, and reflect the goals of the creation of the four Russia-EU common spaces, set into the roadmaps. Although this does not at all mean that we will seek to mechanically transfer the text of the roadmaps into the new document.

The economic part must become one of the principal components of the treaty. But it should also be formulated in the most general form, because most of the specific questions pertaining to trade regulations, movement of capital and labor, state purchases, intellectual property rights and other issues will become the subject of separate agreements.

The treaty cannot detail provisions of an economic and commercial nature by virtue of its framework character and due to the fact that the appropriate commitments imply the settledness of the question of our WTO membership. At present, as you know, informal consultations are continuing between the Russian Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and the specialized CEC Directorate General on a possible conclusion of a separate trade-and-economic agreement. I shall stress – informal consultations, because officially this process can be launched only after Russia’s accession to the WTO and the final determination of our rights and obligations within the framework of our membership in this organization. That’s why the position of the business community is so important right now.

Sooner or later, the negotiation process will begin. I will tell you honestly – we are not expecting easy talks. The European Union has never been an easy negotiator. On a number of issues, the visions by Russia and the EU of the priorities in cooperation and a balance of interests, apparently, will not initially coincide. Hence the need to devise a mechanism for contribution by the domestic business community to the negotiation process right now. An optimal format for this, I think, is continued use of the Business Council under the auspices of the Foreign Minister, to whose meetings officials from specialized ministries and departments are invited along with leaders of key Russian business associations. I also believe that this should be reflected in the final decisions of today’s meeting.