Wednesday, April 28, 2004

We have a deal – for the moment

Helen Szamuely

Russia and the EU seem to have agreed on the wording of their statement about extending Russia’s friendly attitude towards the new accession members. But, as usual, the EU had to pay.

It seems that the EU and Russia have achieved some kind of a deal over the EU’s expansion into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Russians have apparently accepted that the partnership and co-operation agreement (PCA) should extend to the new members as well, though it has never been really clear what the agreement does and does not allow for.

The Russian negotiators had been making all kinds of noises over the the plight of the Russian minority in Estonia and Latvia but, as predicted in the Estonian newspapers, they were ready to abandon those minorities if they could get a better deal over the Kaliningrad enclave. And that is exactly what happened. The EU agreed to reduce customs barriers for goods from Kaliningrad into the EU; it has also agreed to lower some of the tariffs and increase the quotas on Russian steel (a long-standing problem between the two) and to ease various anti-dumping regulations.

In return Russia has made various statements. In particular, it has agreed to the protocol that simply says that the EU and Russia welcome the Baltic countries’ membership of the EU and view it as a guarantee of rights for national minorities.

The agreement points forward to further negotiations for a special deal over Kaliningrad, possible EU support for Russian application to the WTO and probable pressure by the EU over Kyoto. The latter may turn out to be harder than all the other problems put together. The Russian government is adamant that they will not sign the Kyoto protocol as it has no scientific basis and is, in any case, harmful to the Russian economy.

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