EU-Russia summit this week raises many questions

Publish date: November 24, 2006

EU-Russia co-operation will once again be in the spotlight as EU and Russian leaders are scheduled to meet Friday November 24th in another bilateral summit, following their dinner in Lahti, Finland of a few weeks ago.

The discussions will focus on the renewal of the ten-year old Co-operation and Partnership Agreement covering the areas of energy, trade and human rights.

Once again, energy issues will be at the top of the agenda, as EU leaders want European investors to have the same access to the Russian energy market as Russian companies have to Europe’s market. They also want European companies to be given the ability to use Russian pipelines to export any gas and oil they produce in Russia.

The announcement this autumn by Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom that no foreign companies would be allowed to participate in the development of one of the world’s biggest oil and gas fields – the Russian Arctic Shtokman area – came as a major blow to international industry majors, including Total, Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil.

Human rights issues will certainly also be a hot topic, as several recent human rights crises have rocked Russia’s relationship with the western world, most notably Russia’s current stance against the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the contract killing in Moscow earlier this month of journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya – who built her reputation on her unsparing criticism of the Kremlin – and the Russian government’s refusal to register several prominent western NGOs under the Kremlin’s new NGO law.

The ability for EU leaders to present a united front will be crucial, and the Finnish hosts, currently holding the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, have emphasised the importance of the EU speaking with one voice in its dealings with Russia on energy. Russian President Vladimir Putin knows all too well that internal dissension spells external weakness.

Mr. Putin addressed potential divisions within the EU in a commentary published in The Financial Times this week, writing that they stem from stereotypes initiated by “those who warn of the danger of Europe becoming dependant on Russia see Russia-EU relations in black and white and try to fit them into the obsolete mold of friend or foe.”

The summit will also include the signing of a “Northern Dimension” treaty with Russia, Norway and Iceland, focusing on oil and gas exploration and fishing North of the Arctic Circle, Russian nuclear submarines as well as social issues.

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