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EU/Russia: Moscow Requests 11 November Summit Be Postponed

The European Union and Russia have postponed a summit scheduled for The Hague on 11 November. The European Commission said Russia requested the postponement. The Russian government says it wants to wait until a new European Commission enters into office. However, EU officials also suggest differences with Moscow over a number of key aspects may have delayed the summit.

Brussels, 8 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russia formally asked for the postponement of the summit on 5 November.

That was the day the EU approved a new line-up of the incoming European Commission, to be headed by Jose Manuel Barroso. The naming of the commission had been delayed by controversy and sources now say the commission is unlikely to take office before 22 November.

The commission president and the external relations commissioner are usually present at summits with third countries, and commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin says she understands Russia's wish to meet the new commission. But she also suggests there may be other reasons for the postponement.

"They have [given] us their stated reason, this wish to meet with the new commission. It is true that despite considerable effort on our part, we were still working toward an agreement on the four common spaces but there were still some elements that were open," Udwin said.
"We have been working very hard toward an agreement. There are some areas, to be frank, where we would have wished to see the Russians to be more forthcoming." -- EC spokeswoman Emma Udwin

The four "spaces" include external security, internal security (areas such as justice and immigration), the economy, and the fields of education and culture. Once agreement on the four areas is in place, the EU hopes to consolidate them into a "strategic partnership" agreement with Russia.

EU officials say the delay of the summit had at least as much to do with long-standing disagreements over the "spaces" for external and internal security, as with the bloc's struggle to nominate a new European Commission.

Udwin today said the EU is not to be blamed for whatever disagreements still exist.

"We have been working very hard toward an agreement. There are some areas, to be frank, where we would have wished to see the Russians to be more forthcoming. Many speakers at the External Relations Council [EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels] last Tuesday [2 November] stressed the wish to see an agreement of quality and stressed that the quality was more important than meeting the deadline of the summit, then scheduled for 11 November," Udwin said.

Udwin said the commission wants agreement on the four spaces as a "cohesive, comprehensive whole."

EU diplomats say this is shorthand for two issues. Firstly, Russia refuses to agree to focus cooperation on external security on its immediate neighbors, such as the "frozen conflicts" in Moldova and Georgia. Udwin confirmed this in talks with journalists.

"Perhaps the one [thing] that may be of most interest to you -- I'm guessing -- is our wish to see the external security space include a focus on our common neighborhood and addressing the 'frozen conflicts' in that common neighborhood," Udwin said.

Secondly, Russia rejects an EU demand to accompany a declaration affirming the significance of the fight against terrorism by a commitment to ensure full respect to human rights in the process. This dispute affects the "internal security space" and is seen by Russia as a reference to the conflict in Chechnya.

Some EU member states, led by France and Italy, argue that in the absence of full agreement, the EU and Russia could limit themselves to signing separate agreements on culture and the economy. Critics, who form the majority among member states, however, say this would effectively mean giving up on the two key EU concerns in the remaining two fields of cooperation.

One official, speaking privately, said the European Commission, too, feels that the EU would "best protect its interests by interlinking the four spaces."

Russia's transit rights to Kaliningrad and the situation of the Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia also feature on the list of issues where differences persist between the two sides.

EU officials say the summit is now likely to take place in December.