The European Union has at last approved a negotiating mandate for a new partnership agreement with Russia. The bloc’s foreign ministers endorsed the mandate after 18 months of objections from the ex-communist members, most recently by Lithuania. The EU hopes to launch the talks at a summit in late June in Siberia, at the very end of Slovenia’s EU Presidency, and just before the French take up the role. It will be President Dmitriy Medvedev’s first EU-Russia summit. Slovenia said it hoped a deal on the new pact could be in place in two years. Others predict it will take much longer. The western EU members want solid economic ties with Russia. The eastern states want the EU to deal more firmly with Moscow. Warsaw said: “There will inevitably be problems.” The previous Polish government for a long time vetoed the start of the new partnership talks over a Russian ban on importing Polish meat. Lithuania had raised concerns over Russia’s role in
“frozen conflicts” in some of the ex-Soviet republics. Clinching the mandate came as Poland and Sweden proposed that the EU build an Eastern Partnership to groom former Soviet republics for eventual membership in the EU. The pact with Russia will aim to cover trade, security, research, education and culture and energy. Europe said it sought a “level playing field” in terms of reciprocal market access in the energy sector.
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