The establishment of a common European space is a key aspect of Russia-European Union co-operation.
What does this term mean? It would be easier to answer this question after describing joint Russia-EU work in four areas.
The economic aspect of our cooperation has been the most successful. After two years of work on it, the common economic space concept will be finalised prior to the November 6 Russia-EU summit in Rome. After that, the concerned parties will start discussing its implementation. The fourth general energy-dialogue report should also be ready for the Rome summit. It goes without saying that energy is the most obvious base for reliable, long-term Russia-EU relations.
Moreover, we are continuing to negotiate other aspects of our relations, co-ordinating specific interaction issues in the context of the European security and defence policy concept, which refers to crisis management and civil defence spheres, as well as operations to deal with the aftermath of disasters.
A Russia-Europol cooperation agreement is due to be signed at the Rome summit. This document concerns common European-wide freedom space, though everyone is equally aware that freedom is impossible without the primacy of law.
The creation of a common culture, education and science space is seen as the fourth area of our cooperation. We are preparing to prolong the science-and-technological cooperation agreement in this field. Moreover, Russia recently joined the Bologna process, which stipulates common education standards. Some EU countries recognise a number of Russian college and university diplomas and degrees. We would like to sign a similar agreement dealing with school-leavers' certificates being issued to students when they finish secondary school.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov held talks with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, Ireland's Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, EU Commission member Gunther Verheugen and the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) Javier Solana in Moscow on the threshold of the Rome summit. The concerned parties discussed last-moment summit preparations.
The Rome summit is called on to implement the relevant decision of the May 31, 2003 Russia-EU summit in St. Petersburg on establishing a permanent partnership council.
The Rome summit will also continue to discuss visa-free travel for Russian and EU citizens, which is a very important issue.
What do we want to accomplish? Russia would like to see its citizens included in the EU's so-called Group A regime when they cross EU borders. According to our information, this list comprises 43 countries, whose citizens require no visas for entering the EU and for staying there (without employment rights) for a period of up to three months. Naturally, reciprocal accords are envisaged.
We are talking about the visa-free regime as a prospect for the future, suggesting that this goal be attained stage by stage. The Schengen system uses a simplified visa procedure for those involved in culture, sports and student exchanges, as well as for senior citizens visiting their relatives, etc. We would like to take advantage of these available opportunities in line with a bilateral accord, while also discussing prospects for issuing additional multiple entry-exit visas and introducing a more lenient visa system for the population of border areas.
Initial talks on elaborating a mutually acceptable border-crossing system were held in Brussels early this October. And we hope that such talks will continue.
It should also be noted that the Russia-EU summit in Rome is the last such representative conference on the eve of the EU's projected enlargement in May 2004. Moscow believes that everything possible should be done to prevent such expansion from negatively affecting the state of trade-and-economic, political and humanitarian cooperation with the 10 new EU members, which are all seen as Russia's traditional partners without exception. These 10 candidate countries account for 15% of Russia's entire trade turnover.
The EU enlargement covers the trade and economic, legal and political spheres.
The partnership and cooperation agreement, which was signed in June 1994, and which entered into force December 1, 1997, is the legal foundation of current Russia-EU relations. Specific protocols have to be signed and ratified to apply this agreement to new EU countries. The details of this procedure are yet to be co-ordinated.
Moreover, discrimination against Russian-speaking communities in Latvia and Estonia will turn into a problem for Russia-EU relations, rather than bilateral discussions between Russia and these two countries, after the EU expands.
Kaliningrad region problems, i.e. energy-supplies, fishing and transit issues, still remain to be solved completely in connection with the EU's forthcoming enlargement. The 2002 Brussels summit reached a passenger-transit accord, which has been implemented successfully since July 1, 2003. Meanwhile, the sides are continuing to negotiate freight-transit and military-transit aspects.
Various problems facing Russian exporters after the EU's expansion are a separate matter for talks.
This concerns the future of EU tariffs and non-tariff restrictions with regard to Russian goods. For example, the EU allots Russian steel-import quotas to 15 countries. Meanwhile we would like such quotas to encompass all the 25 countries, because this is only a logical step. The same can be said about automatic or non-automatic spreading of anti-dumping proceedings (as regards Russian goods) to new EU members.
We hope that the Rome summit will make it possible to constructively solve problems in Russia-EU relations, also becoming an important step in forging a common European space.
Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Vladimir CHIZHOV
Rescuers found the pilot of one of the two Su-34 fighters that had collided in midair in the Far East on January 18