Lahti European Summit : Dinner Talks with Putin Were Very Frank but Settled Nothing

Europe-East, November 21, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Lahti European Summit : Dinner Talks with Putin Were Very Frank but Settled Nothing


In addition to talks on social matters, energy and immigration (see separate articles), the informal European Summit in Lahti on 20 October also offered an opportunity for a review at the highest level of relations between the EU and its Russian neighbour, since Vladimir Putin was the dinner guest of the heads of state and government. Romania and Bulgaria also took part in the dinner, along with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Josep Borrell.

It took several hours of discussion to find the right tone, however, and a few bilateral meetings between Finland's Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and certain heads of state and government, such as Poland's Lech Kaczynski, to get the EU side to speak with one voice. Poland, Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania in particular pointed out that the energy talks with Moscow were not "just an economic matter but also a political tool". Germany and France kept a lower profile. "There is no question of linking moral and economic issues," French President Jacques Chirac told the press.

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, who chaired the meeting, had the thankless job of making a show of unity where that was not exactly the case.

In addition to energy issues (see separate article), the Presidency tackled three other subjects. "We agreed that even though we cooperate a lot in international affairs - in questions such as Iran, North Korea and Middle East, we can still enhance our cooperation further," Matti Vanhanen told reporters. "The recent murder of [Russian journalist] Anna Politkovskaya was also raised during our talks. This terrible crime needs full investigation and those responsible for this crime must be brought to justice. [...] Relations between Georgia and the Russian Federation were touched upon extensively. Here, the EU expressed its concerns at the escalation of tension."

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso then reviewed the close ties between Russia and Europe. Referring to energy, among other matters, he said that "Russia needs Europe, just as Europe needs Russia. We need to acknowledge and benefit from this interdependency. And this concept appeared several times during our very open talks. Positive interdependency. We want our relationship with Russia to deepen. To achieve that, we need to develop mutual trust. That requires transparency, rule of law, reciprocity and non-discrimination along with market opening and market access."

The meal - which included tartare de lavaret (a white fish) with grilled fennel, artichoke soup and roasted goose with rosemary - was already under way when the talks became a bit more frank. Different participants spoke up, including the Polish, Baltic and Danish leaders, as well as the president of the European Parliament. They raised the issues of Georgia, Chechnya, the killing of Anna Politkovskaya and the general state of human rights and democracy in Russia.

According to participants, Vladimir Putin became somewhat irritated, objecting in particular to the idea of corruption and the mafia in Russia.

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