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EU United On Energy Issues Before Talks With Russia

The venue of the summit, in the Finnish town of Lahti (Council of Europe) BRUSSELS, October 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- European Union leaders have affirmed their unity ahead of talks on energy relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit currently in the Finnish town of Lahti.

Before the summit, many observers predicted that divisions within the European Union would allow Putin to play member states against one another.

However, Finland's Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, speaking for the EU's current presidency, said there had been no discord among EU leaders.

"On energy issues, with Russia, we aim to build a close and legally binding partnership based on mutually balanced long-term benefits," Vanhanen said. "It's in the [European] Union's interest to persuade Russia to commit more strongly to the principles which have already been defined in the Energy Charter Treaty and [a] G8 declaration."

Vanhanen said there is complete understanding in the European Union that its energy relations with Russia must proceed from market principles, and should include the opening of markets by both sides, equal opportunities for investment, and access for the EU to Russia's transit pipelines.

The European Union is increasingly dependent on Russian energy, but its companies have no access to Russia's pipeline network and are increasingly sidelined from gas and oil extraction, while Gazprom is demanding access to EU delivery networks.

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