I have mixed feelings about the joint statement on EU enlargement and Russia-EU relations, adopted in Luxembourg on April 27. It embraces all of the sides' agreements reached by the admission of ten new states to the EU on May 1.
On the one hand, the EU made certain concessions at the last possible moment, though it could have done so before. On the other hand, the joint statement includes promises to take into account Russia's concerns over the near doubling of the EU membership. Promises are good, but what will they come to?
Any relations are always a compromise. Russians feel offended, to a degree, on the eve of the EU expansion. But this is logical, because the economic development of Russia and the EU is different so far. They are not equal partners because Russia is weaker. If it keeps progressing at the current pace for 5-10 years, it will grow stronger and have a more advantageous position at negotiations.
Russians feel sorry that the countries that had been in the zone of Russian influence so long and were our partners have deserted us. The zone of Russia's influence has diminished - but nobody is to blame for this. The old system has collapsed, very possibly because it did not work well enough.
Besides, the European Commission, with which we directly deal, is a cumbersome bureaucratic organisation. Its short-term interests sometimes overshadow its vision of the more distant future, which promises many more advantages to the parties concerned.
However, it is significant that Russia and the EU have come to an agreement on the cargo transit between Russia's mainland and Kaliningrad. This may be one of the most important agreements, because it has political overtones. The sides have agreed to continue working to ease visa restrictions for Russians travelling from Kaliningrad to Moscow and back. The organisation of high-speed passenger line between Kaliningrad and mainland Russia will settle the visa problem simply and effectively, as the train will pass through Lithuania without stopping.
Another agreement that caught my attention is the increase of quotas for Russian steel exports to EU countries by the amount equivalent to the volume of steel deliveries to the new members. The sides have also agreed to slash commodity tariffs from 9% to 4%, though the duty on aluminium will be raised, which does not suit Russia. On the other hand, Russia and the EU agreed that the customs duties on aluminium will be raised gradually within three years, including duty-free this year, +2% next year, +4% in 2006, and +6% in 2007. This will give Russia's exporters of aluminium to the EU time to get used to the new situation.
The sides have also agreed to simplify veterinary norms for Russian food exports to the EU. Europe agreed to allow Russian planes that do not meet noise standards to bring Russian tourists to Spain, Italy and France.
The EU has made a written pledge to monitor the situation with national minorities in the Baltic republics, above all Latvia and, to a lesser degree, Estonia. This problem cannot be solved overnight; it will take time because it means the Russian-speaking minority adapting to the fact of living in an independent state whose language they must know to become part of its society. This is much easier for young people. There must be a generation change at the political top; there must be people there whose attitude to the problem is not marred by any negative memories of the past.
Now a few words about the continued talks on increasing the Russian grain export quota, on the export of nuclear materials, and on anti-dumping procedures.
Will Russia gain from EU enlargement? Possibly, because customs duties will be reduced, customs procedures will be standardised, and the movement of cargoes will gather speed, earning Russia tens of millions of dollars. Standard conditions will be set for cargo transit, which is vital, as Russia will benefit from the expanded European market. It will have more possibilities for trade, including for exporting its commodities to Europe. There is a nascent shift toward easing visa restrictions between the EU and Russia; at least, the negotiations are underway.
So, I fully agree with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said after signing the joint statement in Luxembourg that Russia's losses from the EU expansion would be minimal. There will be some short-term losses, but they will be compensated by short-term advantages. And there will be also a balance of interests, but it cannot be calculated precisely. In the long term, Russia will gain from EU enlargement, provided it itself moves ahead.
Russia and EU must co-operate but it is easier for Russia now to develop bilateral relations with EU members than with the organisation as a whole. Russia has considerably intensified its relations with France, Germany and Italy, and its ties with Sweden are wonderful, though contacts with Britain have lost some of their former vitality. Some new EU members (in particular, Poland) say a key task now is to restore relations with Russia and other eastern neighbours on a new basis.
As for Brussels, it has very strong bureaucratic traditions and tends to lecture Russia on some issues and sometimes acts as its patron. In other words, Moscow-EU rapprochement is viewed as Moscow moving towards Brussels rather than as simultaneous movement towards each other. But I think this misunderstanding will be cleared up soon. The stronger Russia becomes, the simpler it will be for it to talk to the EU. This is when the era of genuine partnership will begin.
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