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Tusk: Europe must speak with one voice to Russia

tusk021708.jpgThe Prime Minister of Poland writes in the FT about how Europe should handle Russia:

Europe must speak with one voice to Russia By Donald Tusk Russia is the largest and one of the most important of the European Union’s neighbours. The challenge is for the EU to work out a common policy on how to handle its neighbour – and to implement it consistently. The new Lisbon treaty speaks of the EU’s responsibility to maintain the cohesion of its external operations, but only within the scope of the community’s responsibility. Beyond that, there is a growing tendency for member states and large corporations to act autonomously. There is no cohesion here. On the contrary, diverging interests and even rivalry are common. Additionally, tensions that occur in relations with Russia usually involve individual countries, whether the issue is gas and petrol supplies, embargoes on farm products or the operation of cultural centres. What constitutes a problem for some enables others to strengthen their position.

I hope progress in developing a coherent European policy will be achieved thanks to the Lisbon treaty, which will strengthen common foreign policy. It also – as postulated by Poland – has a provision on energy solidarity. In embarking on talks with Russia on a new partnership and co-operation agreement, it is worth considering the lessons learnt in recent months.First, irrespective of how important a partner Russia is for respective member states, and the flexibility they are willing to show because of their particular interests, the point of departure should be general principles on which an EU consensus has been reached.An illustration is the place of the energy charter treaty and the transit protocol in the EU-Russian dialogue about energy. The treaty would guard against supply disruptions, but Russia has yet to ratify it. The question is whether, in embarking on talks with a strong and demanding partner, we are to give up, right from the start, some general understandings that are important for the EU, only because we anticipate the partner will oppose them. As a consequence of an ill-conceived realism, we could hand Russia the initiative in shaping the terms of co-operation in some energy sector fields. The price would be paid by European companies and citizens through higher energy prices. This is why the binding nature of the basic principles of the charter must be clearly stressed.Second, it is crucial that goals and expectations are realistic. Russia does not aspire to follow a European model. It strives to emphasise its identity and become a pole that attracts other countries. Such a stance will undoubtedly have impact on the final shape of our partnership, which can be clearly seen in discussions on the future of Kosovo.Third, one must focus on social as well as economic relations. A step that shows EU sensitivity to these issues is the visa facilitation agreement, aimed at boosting contacts between European and Russian cultural and scientific circles and at facilitating business co-operation. Negotiations on the partnership and co-operation agreement lay the grounds for wider talks on travel – the long-term goal of which should be a visa waiver. Freedom of movement should not, however, be the only or major issue of basic liberties in the dialogue. The EU, in accordance with principles of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, should be able to assess how Russia evolves through the prism of human rights and civil liberties.Last but not least, a comprehensive EU-Russia partnership must not be an obstacle to developing EU relations with other neighbours in eastern Europe. The European aspirations of those countries are, at times, seen as part of a power struggle between Russia and the west. This simplistic approach does not take account of the countries’ sovereign will to pursue modernisation based on European standards – which does not rule out a harmonious co-existence with Russia.In EU policy, this has already been reflected in the development of parallel agendas – one addressed to Russia and another to the countries included in the European neighbourhood policy, namely Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and, potentially, Belarus. The problem is to ensure that the parallel existence of these formats is not treated as an argument to make the processes inextricably linked. The EU’s response to reforms by some European neighbour countries should be to offer the prospect of membership.Implementation of EU treaty provisions on common security and foreign policy offers new prospects for EU-Russia co-operation. A clear definition of the underlying principles will be conducive to a deep partnership focused on solving common global problems, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, climate change and terrorism. The partnership’s success depends on willingness to found it on principles including transparency, reciprocity and mutuality of benefits.The faster all EU countries understand that a common voice in the EU’s foreign policy is important, the better the relations of respective member states and the EU as a whole with our largest eastern neighbour will be.The writer is Poland’s prime minister