Ahead of an EU-Russia summit on Friday, debate has been overshadowed by a row between Poland and Moscow. Warsaw vetoed the start of talks on a new partnership agreement between the EU and Moscow, because of a Russian ban on Polish meat exports. Moscow’s envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, spoke to EuroNews.
EuroNews: Just before the EU-Russia summit, Poland, with its veto, threatened the planned start of the negotiations between the EU and Russia on the new Partnership and Cooperation agreement. Do you think that the EU of 25 can today perform as a single political partner of Russia?
Chizhov: “The EU is seen by Russia as an important but difficult partner. And it is seen as such by other countries as well. Russia is not an exception in this sense. After the Enlargement of 2004, the EU became even more important and more difficult, mainly because some of the newcomers share a common past with Russia. And for many of them, the memories of the past prevail over the realities of today’s life. However, we do hope that the EU will resolve its inner crisis caused by the Polish veto and the mandate for starting the negotiations will be approved.”
EuroNews: The new Partnership agreement is meant for a different EU and a different Russia, compared to when the first agreement was signed. What, in this new document, will be the biggest difference, compared to the current one?
Chizhov: “The very first negotiations on the current agreement go back to the Soviet era; the document was signed in 1994. It is obvious that in those times both the EU and Russia were drastically different from what they are now. So we want to update the agreement. I believe the new one will reflect our work towards what are known as “the four common spaces”. It would also establish more flexible mechanisms of cooperation, compared to what we have in the current agreement.”
EuroNews: After last year’s gas conflict with Ukraine and the recent decision to double gas prices to Georgia, do you think we can say that Russia’s reputation as a reliable and predictable supplier has been damaged?
Chizhov: “Let’s have a look at this question from the point of view of a private, individual gas consumer in Europe. Imagine your supplier has increased the prices and you have a bigger bill. Would you think the company is no longer reliable? I believe the answer is no. At the international level, it’s the same. As far as Georgia is concerned, you have anticipated the news: until January 2007 the prices won’t change. Later they will start moving up ‘ to the level of the international market. We are doing exactly what the EU has been asking us to do for years.”
EuroNews: In October, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on EU-Russia relations following the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. It asked the EU countries for a tougher tone on democratic rights in dialogue with Moscow. Moscow, meanwhile, says there is no threat to Russian democracy. Does this mean Brussels and Moscow have a different standard of democracy?
Chezhov: “I won’t touch on the motives the authors of this resolution had when they put it together.
As to bilateral dialogue on human rights, that’s going ahead. On the 8th of November, the EU and Russia had their latest round of consultations on human rights issues here in Brussels. I should say that we also have questions to put to our European partners in this field.”
EuroNews: Russia and the EU have been progressing in the area of making the visa process easier, and building the so-called “four common spaces”. Do you think Russia and the EU can eventually follow the model of EU – Swiss cooperation, which is based on a large number of agreements, mutual trust and no integration?
Chezhov: “It is true we are making visa rules simpler. At the same time we should not expect Russia to follow Switzerland and to join the Schengen group. We have studied the model of EU-Swiss relations as a possible model for our cooperation with the EU. The EU-Swiss model is based on a wide range of agreements in different sectors, not on a single, global one. So, after some consultations, both Russia and the EU decided that, for our relations, this is not the best pattern to follow.”
EuroNews: You are an ambassador to a community of countries. Is this very different from being an ambassador to a single country? What is special about your diplomatic mission?
Chezhov: “It’s very different! I represent Russia in a union of countries, to which my country does not belong. That’s the main peculiarity of my work. I have to cooperate with the EU as a whole and at the same time develop bilateral relations with its members. The EU is a dynamic, developing mechanism. In some areas, like trade and commerce, all the decisions are taken at the Union level. But there are areas, such as defence, which are still under national supervision. Between these two extremes, there is a vast “grey” zone of mixed responsibility. To master and to deal with all this is not at all easy, especially at the beginning. You are supposed to work along different lines.”