(10/11/08) EU set to approve Russia talks

The bloc's foreign ministers are today (10 November) expected to overcome internal divisions and give the go-ahead for negotiations over a new EU-Russia basic treaty to be launched.


Talks over a new EU-Russia basic treaty were due to begin on 16 September under the leadership of the European Commission on the bloc's behalf. They were supposed to focus on the replacement of a 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which governs trade and wider economic relations between Europe and Moscow.

But the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 led to the postponement of the negotiations. "Until troops have withdrawn to the positions held prior to 7 August, meetings on the negotiation of the Partnership Agreement will be postponed," EU leaders said in the conclusionsPdf external of their extraordinary summit on the Georgia crisis on 1 September (EurActiv 02/09/08).

In the face of objections from Poland, Lithuania and other countries, the 16 October EU summit (EurActiv 16/10/08) postponed a decision to resume talks with Moscow until the publication of a Commission paperexternal reviewing EU-Russia relations.

The foreign ministers, who will meet in Brussels together with EU defence ministers in a 'jumbo GAERC' (general affairs and external relations meeting), are widely expected to reach a unanimous decision ahead of the EU-Russia summit in Nice on 14 November.

Lately, Lithuania has been the only remaining country to oppose the resumption of talks, which were frozen at the Union's extraordinary summit of 1 September in response to Russia's "unacceptable" military incursion into Georgia, delaying possible further steps until a later date (EurActiv 02/09/08).

In the meantime, Russia agreed to participate in talks in Geneva on post-conflict settlement and complied with the ceasefire agreement, allowing EU observers to deploy to the borders of breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These developments were welcomed by the French EU Presidency and the European Commission alike. However, Lithuania maintained its opposition, considering Moscow to be in breach of the ceasefire agreement by continuing to deploy more troops within Abkhazia and South Ossetia than before the August war.

Speaking at the extraordinary EU summit on 7 November, Sarkozy strongly appealed to the Union to honour its commitments to Russia, which in his view had fulfilled its main post-conflict obligations. Commission President José Manuel Barroso also insisted that one common EU policy on Russia was better than several different positions from groups of member states.

Technically, the Union does not require unanimity to restart the EU-Russia talks. As Sarkozy recently said (EurActiv 22/10/08), the 1 September decision was not to suspend talks but postpone them. If EU leaders had decided to suspend the discussions, they would have needed a unanimous European Council decision for them to be restarted. The decision to postpone allows the Union to continue the talks without giving any assessment, Sarkozy explained.

Moreover, the Union asked the Commission to review EU-Russia relations as a whole in view of the upcoming 14 November summit. This reviewexternal , published on 5 November, calls for negotiations over a new basic treaty to continue, "first because this would allow the EU to pursue its own interests with Russia, and secondly because this is the best way to engage with Russia on the basis of a unified position," the document reads.

But although unanimity is not required, EU ministers would surely try their utmost to achieve it, perhaps at the price of a written declaration restating the Union's rejection of the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

It is widely anticipated that Lithuania's hardline position will be difficult to maintain in view of recent Western press reports that Georgia's army attacked the South Ossetian capital Tshinvali with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire on 7 August, killing many civilians, diplomats told EurActiv.


Tunne Kelam MEP , a member of the European Parliament's EU-Russia parliamentary cooperation committee , criticised the European Council and the European Commission for not having learned the lessons of Moscow's invasion of Georgia.

"With values and principles left at the level of declarations and their full implementation indefinitely postponed until future conferences, rational arguments end up dominating. This means that while EU leaders declare that there is no business as usual, in reality, business as usual will continue because there is no alternative," said Kelam.

"This is a risky and short-sighted policy by which the EU is depriving itself of being respected as a serious and independent actor in international affairs. If, after Russia's blatant use of force and dismembering of an independent state, the European Community finds that it can afford no principled alternatives at all, this will be interpreted by Kremlin militant leaders as opening the way to further demonstrations of force," the MEP said, addinng that "since 8 August 2008, the paradigm of international security is no longer the same".

Next steps:

14 Nov. : EU-Russia summit in Nice.


European Union

Council of the European Union: Extraordinary European Council, 1 September 2008, Presidency ConclusionsPdf external
French Presidency: EU-Russia summitexternal
European Commission: Review of EU-Russia relationsexternal
Press articles

IHT: Georgia’s claims on war with Russia questionedexternal
Welt Online: Lithuania condemns resumption of Russia talksexternal
The Moscow Times: Kremlin aide ties WTO to EU talksexternal

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