The European Union's commissioner for external affairs, Chris Patten, yesterday told the bloc's foreign ministers he wants the bloc to clarify its aims regarding its policy on Russia. Patten's call appears to be motivated by this month's EU-Russia summit in Rome. The summit's host, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was widely criticized for publicly contradicting a number of key union positions on Russia.
Brussels, 18 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said yesterday the bloc needs clear and simple guidelines for dealing with Russia.
The comment seemed to be a tacit admission that the EU went unprepared into the Rome summit with Russia in early November.
Officials suggest that Patten's remarks reflect not only what is seen as an undistinguished summit but the belief that EU policy on Russia has evolved little during Patten's four years in office.
Patten's spokesman Diego de Ojeda told RFE/RL that during a meeting in Brussels yesterday with the bloc's foreign ministers, the commissioner said Russia is too important a partner to be neglected.
"Commissioner Patten explained that in his view relations with Russia are of sufficient importance that we should be making progress at a faster pace, both on those points that are of main interest for Russia, as well as on those that are of main interest to the EU. He said that in his view, we in the union needed to -- perhaps -- make an effort to have clearer policy objectives. We should also make an effort as regards explaining our clearer policy objectives to the Russian side in clearer terms," de Ojeda said.
Patten then offered to assist EU member states in this by drafting a policy paper. De Ojeda said he expects the idea to be discussed by EU officials over the coming weeks. He said that if Patten's proposal is adopted, the bloc could start preparing "very early" under the upcoming Irish presidency for the next summit with Russia, scheduled for June.
An EU diplomat, who asked not to be named, said Patten's plan would not involve any fundamental "rewriting" of existing EU policy stances.
Rather, Patten appears to expect that once policy guidelines are systematized and presented with greater clarity, member states will find it easier to "stick by them" in their dealings with Russia. Quoting Patten, the official said the commissioner had told the ministers they need "to sing from the same songbook."
The diplomat said Russia has found it relatively easy so far to play EU member states against one another. He specifically mentioned Moscow's aim of seeing the EU drop its visa requirements for Russian citizens. Russia, he said, went to different EU partners and was given very different messages by each.
De Ojeda yesterday said most ministers supported Patten's initiative. He said a number of them had indicated that clarifying a common approach could be helpful in tackling the impending crisis over the extension of the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to the new member states.
De Ojeda told RFE/RL there are concerns Russia will refuse to automatically extend the PCA, as it has sometimes done with similar agreements in the past:
"One of the issues the commissioner mentioned was the need for us to come to an understanding as early as possible regarding the extension of the PCA, which in our view is something that we should get out of the way before 1 May next year when enlargement takes place � because otherwise our relations with Russia would run into trouble,� de Ojeda said.
De Ojeda said the EU will expect Russia to honor the wording of the joint statement adopted in Rome, where both sides said they look forward to a "timely extension" of the PCA. But, de Ojeda said, the EU "needs to make sure this happens."
An EU diplomat said that aside from the PCA issue, most ministers appear keen to put more pressure on Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and agree to concessions on nuclear safety.
The official said some ministers had yesterday voiced support for a more vigorous EU strategy of "linking" certain concerns, to provide Russia with incentives for meeting EU standards. This "linking" strategy has become common practice in Russia's negotiations with the EU, and one bloc officials say is not always used fairly.
A case in point is the readmission agreement on illegal immigrants, which the EU has been eager to see finalized. When the EU and Russia struck a deal on Kaliningrad transit last year, the readmission treaty was supposed to be an element in the EU package of gains.
Now, however, Moscow says it is only willing to sign the agreement if it is given a "clear perspective" on the abolition of the EU visa requirement for Russians.
The official said the EU will only offer incentives within clear timelines and would not use such inducements more than once.