Moscow, 5 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- European Union External Affairs Commissioner Christopher Patten and EU Commissioner for Trade Pascal Lamy held talks in Moscow today with top Russian officials. Patten met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to discuss Russia's potential entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), security and defense, EU enlargement, and international terrorism.
At a press conference this morning, Patten said the European Union is striving to broaden its business interaction with Russia to further strengthen the recent success of improved political dialogue. Furthermore, Patten said the EU applauds Russia's economic reforms and believes they will eventually bring Russia even with EU standards.
The external affairs chief also pointed out that an enlarged EU is not a threat for the Russian economy: "We recognize and welcome the considerable political and economic reforms, which have been put in place by President [Vladimir] Putin's government. We believe that those changes all go well for the economic relationship between an enlarged European Union and the Russian Federation. The figures speak for themselves. Today about 35 percent of Russia's exports go to the European Union, and after enlargement that figure is likely to be 50 percent or higher."
Patten pointed out that EU enlargement would bring the EU and Russia even closer together. The EU, he added, is Russia's largest trading partner.
He also said that the EU-Russia relationship on political and security issues has improved over the past year and that the EU would like to now see similar advances made in the economic sphere.
Patten said that EU interests lie in making Russia a more significant economic partner. He cited the initiative, launched at the EU-Russia summit in May, of creating a unified European economic space: "There are a number of things happening in parallel. That is the work that we are doing through the structures of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement [between the EU and Russia] and the regular work that we are doing to bring Europe and Russia close together. That is the work that has been done on the energy dialogue, which is very important for both of us. There are the negotiations, for which Pascal [Lamy] is responsible from the European side, for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. And there is the idea of creating a common European economic space. So we can insure that European and Russian business and investors can work much more easily in promoting economic integration and convergence."
Lamy described the EU position on Russia's accession to the WTO is "very simple." The EU, he said, supports the process "not only in words, but also in deeds." He said the EU favors an acceleration of negotiations. Russia applied for entry to the WTO in 1994. According to Lamy, the EU has always supported its accession.
The trade commissioner explained how the EU thinks the relationship with Russia should progress: "We see the relationship as progressively being built on three pillars. The first one, which [already] exists, is the [Partnership and Cooperation Agreement] which we have. The second one, which we are building, in a multilateral context, is the WTO accession. And the third one, on which we have started to work, is the common economic space. And these three pillars have to be seen as progressively building up our relationship to meet the sort of specificity we have in mind."
Lamy says that the main priority for Russia, if it is to become an equal business partner, must be developing good banking, judiciary, and anticorruption systems: "What are the main priorities? I would say banking, the judiciary system, and intellectual-propriety protection. In this three areas it is not a question of getting the right regulations but also getting the right level of enforcement and implementation of the regulations. To this I would add an efficient system for antirobbery and anticorruption."
Both EU officials said they hoped that their visit in Moscow will help solve a number of long-standing trade matters, clearing the way for both sides to concentrate on more strategic issues.