26 May 2009

Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union Javier Solana: It is true that relations between the EU and Russia have gone through challenging year

In the run-up to the next EU-Russia summit due to be held in Khabarovsk on May 21-22, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana answered the questions of Interfax and Novaya Gazeta about the current relations between Russia and the united Europe and about the key topics of the Khabarovsk summit.

1. Last year’s war in Georgia slowed down the development of the relations between the European Union and Russia. What is their situation now? Has this conflict remained in the past and is the EU ready to conduct “business as normal” with Russia?

It is true that relations between the EU and Russia have gone through a challenging year. The relationship was tested by the war in Georgia last year and by the gas crisis this winter. We are still working to resolve both issues. Nonetheless, our relationship is very broad and we have continued to co-operate well in many other areas. Russia remains a key strategic partner for the EU and the task now is to move ahead and build up the trust that is needed to strengthen our partnership.

2. What are the key issues that the EU delegation is planning to discuss at the summit in Khabarovsk? What has been done in the four common spaces of the EU-Russia cooperation?

The issues we will deal with are the issues which confront the world and where we both have a responsibility to act, especially the economic crisis and the key international issues, such as Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Somalia. As the two main actors in Europe, we will of course pay special attention to the issues which concern our continent, like the situation in Georgia, Moldova and the Balkans, and how the economic crisis is affecting our part of the world and how best to tackle it in an open and co-operative way. Finally, as you know, we want to develop our bilateral co-operation further, on the basis of the common spaces, and are negotiating a new agreement to reflect our higher level of ambition, in particular, for us, in the field of energy. This is course work in progress, and it is not always easy, but it is our responsibility as leaders to set out a clear direction.

3. In a discussion with you at the Brussels forum Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the new Eastern Partnership project offered to the six former USSR republics is a variation of the sphere of influence. What can you say about it now?

Better neighborly relations between the EU and its Eastern neighbors are not at the expense of other relationships. We have been very clear from the start that we do not expect any of our Eastern partner countries to choose between better relations with the EU or with Russia, or with any other country for that matter. In our view, a positive dynamic in our relations with these countries will lead to a more positive dynamic in the region as a whole. Our ambition is to help our partner countries make progress on political, economic and social reforms. It can only be in the interest of Russia and of Europe as a whole for these countries to become more stable, prosperous, and open. We of course will continue to develop our strategic partnership with Russia in parallel, and we want also Russia to participate in some projects in the framework of the Eastern Partnership.

4. Energy security is part of the common security. Russia is not entirely happy about the agreement between Brussels and Kyiv on the renovation of the Ukrainian gas transportation system. In your view, what needs to be changed or improved in energy cooperation between the EU and Russia?

The EU and Russia are interdependent energy partners. The EU is Russia‘s main consumer, and Russia is our foremost external energy supplier. This will remain the case for the foreseeable future, and we have every interest to put our energy co-operation on a more solid, long term footing. The gas crisis this winter between Russia and Ukraine had serious consequences for EU consumers. Hence, there is a need for a stronger, more elaborate framework for our relations in this field, so that we can avoid a repetition of such incidents in the future and build trust between us. Trust in turn depends on all sides (producers, consumers and transit countries) to stick to agreed principles for energy security in Europe, such as transparency, non-discrimination and fulfillment of contracts

In the short term, we would for example like to agree with Russia on an enhanced Early Warning Mechanism on possible supply interruptions. Our longer term energy relations should in particular be addressed in the New Agreement between the EU and Russia which we are currently in the process of negotiating. The Agreement should set out reinforced legally binding provisions, enshrining the principles of the Energy Charter Treaty.

5. What is the Southern Corridor? Is it the same thing as the Nabucco gas pipeline? What is its resource base and how can the conflict between the EU Southern Corridor and Russia’s South Stream be resolved? Are they competing projects?

The Southern Corridor is an important priority project for the EU. We want to create a framework for deeper cooperation which would allow energy to flow from the Caspian and Middle Eastern regions to Europe through a new and well-regulated corridor. The Southern Corridor would offer the EU geographically new sources of energy and new transit routes. It‘s a question of diversification of sources and routes, which we believe is in everybody‘s interest. The Southern Corridor includes a variety of projects, of which Nabucco is one but not the only. The Southern Corridor is an open concept, not directed against anyone, nor excluding anyone.

On 8 May the EU held a summit in Prague on the Southern Corridor with key producer and transit countries from the relevant regions. At the summit, a joint declaration was signed. It included clear commitments for the realization of the corridor. Russia attended the Southern Corridor Summit as observer.

6. How can the ratification or non-ratification of the Lisbon Treaty impact the EU’s relations with Russia and Eastern partners?

The objective of the Treaty of Lisbon is first and foremost to bring our own house in order. The EU has grown with successive enlargements and its procedures and institutions need to be adapted to the new realities. The Treaty, once in force, would allow the EU to work in a more efficient and coherent manner. It would modify our institutional setup, for example with the creation of a full time President of the European Council. Some of the measures foreseen by the Treaty of Lisbon will of course be more directly relevant for EU - Russian relations. One of the objectives of the treaty is to strengthen the EU‘s voice in the world. The treaty would strengthen the function I am currently holding, and reinforce the EU‘s diplomatic presence around the world. The treaty will also, for example, be important for strengthening the EU‘s common energy policy, an important area in our relations.