Eu/russia : Moscow Threatens to Extend Its Dispute with Poland to Entire Eu

Europe-East, December 19, 2006 | Go to article overview

Eu/russia : Moscow Threatens to Extend Its Dispute with Poland to Entire Eu


The conflict between Moscow and Warsaw on veterinary and plant protection product imports could well spread. EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou does not believe a settlement is possible before 24 November. That is the date when the EU25 are due to launch negotiations on a far-reaching partnership agreement with Russia to replace the 1997 agreement. Its energy chapter is considered highly strategic for most European countries. But the success of the EU-Russia Summit, organised in Helsinki by the Finnish EU Presidency, is being jeopardised by Warsaw's refusal to waive its veto on the start of the talks for as long as Russia keeps its borders closed to Polish food products.

Some EU sources say the situation could get even more acrimonious. The Kremlin is already threatening an embargo on all European exports of several categories of products from 1 January 2007. Russia's pretext is the supposed threat posed by Romania and Bulgaria to the hygiene of foods exported by the EU to Russia. The Russian authorities are particularly critical of the absence of controls for swine fever in these two countries.

During a joint intervention with Poland's Agriculture Minister Andrei Lepper in the margins of the Agriculture Council of 21 November, Commissioner Kyprianou tried to be reassuring. He said his services were used to managing such crises with Moscow and that, during the previous enlargement in 2004, it took the EU negotiators only a few weeks to have similarrestrictions waived.

The commissioner pointed out the demanding level of EU food safety regulations. And he justified the Polish position, which is particularly irritating to Moscow, of tackling the issue at EU level. A team of EU vets is currently on an urgent inspection tour of Poland to check if there is any sanitary risk related to the consumption of Polish products. The results are expected to be known by the end of next week, said Kyprianou.

He called on both parties to show "good will", without explaining what that meant in the case of Warsaw. The commissioner said Poland had demonstrated good will in recent months and that the ball was now in Russia's court.

Apart from the Commission, Poland has also received substantial support from the EU member states' agricultural ministers. At the Agriculture Council meeting on 20 November, the ministers of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Estonia and Finland backed Poland in its calls for the ban to be lifted by Russia. The Finnish Presidency ensured Poland that, regardless of the result of the current efforts to resolve the problem, the issue of the embargo on Polish trade would be raised in talks with President Vladimir Putin at the EU-Russia Summit on 24 November in Helsinki. …

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