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EU: Russia Warned Not To Jeopardize Relations Over Enlargement

Brussels, 28 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today said Russia must automatically extend its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU -- which underpins Moscow's relations with the bloc -- to all new member states after enlargement, or risk harming ties.

Russia has said it wants to hold bilateral discussions with some new member states beforehand.

Diego de Ojeda, a commission spokesman, said today in Brussels that the EU will demand an "automatic" extension of the agreement.

"As you know, on 1 May next year, the union will be expanded to 10 new countries. In our view, it is in the interests of both the Russian Federation and the European Union that the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement is expanded automatically -- or technically [that is, without new negotiations] -- to the new member states, so that our bilateral relations, for which the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement is the cornerstone, are not negatively affected."

Russia says its main concerns are trade losses resulting from enlargement and the situation of the Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia and Latvia.

De Ojeda said the EU will explain its position once again at today's meeting of the first EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council in Moscow. The EU is represented at the meeting by Gunter Verheugen, the bloc's enlargement commissioner and the top official in charge of relations with "new neighbors;" the Italian and Irish foreign ministers, who represent, respectively, the current and upcoming EU presidencies; and Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security policy chief.

An EU official, who asked not to be named, told RFE/RL today that the EU remains committed to its long-term position that Russia can only gain economically from the bloc's enlargement. The official said that a letter to that effect was sent to the Russian government in 1999, detailing the generally positive effect on Russian trade of Finland's accession to the EU in 1995.

The official also pointed out that since Russia is not yet a member of the World Trade Organization, it would not be entitled to compensation in any case. The official said the EU will similarly decline Russia's request to hold bilateral talks with Estonia and Latvia on the situation of their Russian-speaking minorities.

De Ojeda today said the EU's view remains that the situation of the minorities has improved significantly throughout Estonia's and Latvia's accession process.

"Our general position is that the process of the enlargement of the EU has resulted in a substantial, tangible improvement in the [situation] of the Russian minorities in the two countries. These two countries' joining the EU could only result in further improvements for the Russian minorities [there]. The situation is perhaps not perfect. There are some Russian concerns. But by and large, we think that those are well taken care of."

The EU official quoted above said Russia has said, among other things, that Estonia and Latvia are not naturalizing their Russian-speaking populations fast enough. He said the EU considers the demands "vastly exaggerated."

However, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov issued a statement on 26 October saying Russia hopes that the admission of Estonia and Latvia into the EU will not cause "unnecessary tensions" in relations between the bloc and Moscow.

The official said if Russia refuses to extend the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to the new member states before enlargement, relations between Moscow and the bloc will suffer what he called "major disruption." He said the principle of equality applying to all member states would prevent the bloc from continuing meetings with Russia within the present framework, which only covers the current 15 member states.

The EU today also dismissed Russia's attempts to win additional concessions for goods transported to Kaliningrad via Lithuania.

De Ojeda said the EU considers the issue closed after the deal reached on Kaliningrad at last year's Brussels summit with Russia.

"Our position is that we reached a deal, a comprehensive deal with the Russian Federation on the whole issue of Kaliningrad, including the transit of people and goods at the summit in Brussels [in November 2002]. [This is] a deal that we've managed to implement, and therefore all of the technicalities should be tackled within that comprehensive deal."

De Ojeda said, however, that all of the above issues may feature at the upcoming EU-Russia summit in Rome on 6 November.