Eu/russia : Helsinki Summit Still a Good Opportunity for Progress

Article excerpt

The launch of negotiations on a new agreement with Russia is a priority goal for the Finnish Presidency. Helsinki is therefore doing it utmost to persuade Poland to waive its veto. Finland and the European Commission are in close contact with the Russian and Polish governments as they try to break a stalemate over a Polish meat and plant products embargo imposed by Moscow in November 2005.

The current PCA is due to expire at the end of next year. After Russia refused to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty, the EU decided not to press ahead with its demand for Russia to ratify it but to agree with Moscow on a new, broader and more coherent agreement including, in particular, new arrangements regarding EU-Russia energy cooperation.

In the directives that enable the Commission to negotiate with Russia on behalf of the EU, adopted in July 2006, the Commission pledged to achieve an agreement covering the whole range of EU-Russia cooperation, with a particular focus on the gradual deepening and development of trade relations and fair and open development of the energy relationship between the EU and Russia. The main emphasis of negotiations was placed on achieving an agreement including ambitious objectives on political and external security cooperation; effective multilateralism; provisions on the fight against organised crime; WMDs; migration and asylum; and counter-terrorism. Moreover, the Commission's intention was to reach an agreement with Russia on a new structure of energy relations based on reciprocity and fair and equal access.

The EU's failure to agree on a negotiating mandate casted a shadow over the forthcoming EU-Russia summit. However, the meeting was still a good opportunity for the EU to seek progress in some of the most important issues in its relations with Russia.

SIBERIAN OVERFLIGHTS AND GALILEO

For many years the EU has requested that Russia do away with charges that EU airlines are forced to pay for flying over Russian territory on the basis that they are not related to normal payments for Air Traffic Control services and are contrary to international aviation law. In March 2006, the Council mandated the Commission to negotiate an agreement to resolve the issue before Russia's accession to the WTO. EU sources told Europolitics that some progress in negotiations was made on 13 November and the agreement might be signed by EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot and Russia's Minister of Transport Igor Levitin in the margins of the summit.

The EU intends to conclude in 2006 an agreement with Russia covering cooperation on political and technical aspects of Galileo/Glonass, including interoperability of Galileo and Glonass, joint use of the two services and coordination in international fora. A complete draft text for possible agreement was sent to Russian authorities at the end of 2003. Since then the parties have been holding talks. However, the Commission has not yet received a Russian response to its proposal.

DISCRIMINATORY RAILWAY TARIFFS

The Russian system of tariffs for railway freight transport discriminates between domestic and international destinations in relation to domestic freight and affects economic operations both in the EU and Russia. …