Friday, May 21, 2004

The problems we are still to take on

Another EU-Russia Summit is due to open tomorrow (Friday, May 21) in Moscow. This will be number 13 but, for some reason, there is marginally more optimism about this one than any of the previous ones.

Russia wants the EU to back its application for the WTO. The EU may well do so if Russia agrees to various demands to liberalize its internal energy pricing system and to reconstruct some of the natural resource monopolies such as Gazprom. Is that likely to happen? Well, one highly placed Kremlin source was heard to mutter that agreeing to the EU demands would be like death to Russia.

Then there is the Kyoto Protocol. For reasons best known to itself the EU is very keen on it, even though no reputable scientist thinks anything very much will come of it and a number of environmentalists, such as Björn Lomborg, have said that the money spent on it would be better spent on some genuinely useful project, such as trying to get clean water in many parts of the world.

The original aim was to set controls on the American economy. As the United States Congress refused to ratify the treaty, that idea went by the board. Russia, too, has so far refused to ratify it and two days ago a number of Russian scientists have made a statement decrying Kyoto as scientifically unsupported and harmful to the Russian economy. Of course, if the EU, in this case Prodi and Ahern, both on their way out as EU representatives for different reasons, supports Russia’s application to the WTO, who knows what might happen. Putin may well change his mind on Kyoto and, surprisingly enough, the Duma will probably follow.

However, Kyoto is on the sidelines and many observers think that the real dispute will be about the new members of the EU, specifically the Baltic states. Readers of the blog will remember that last time round, on April 27, Russia and the EU did come to an agreement and the friendship pact was extended to the new members.

It is expected that this time Russia will be less accomodating and will raise the issue of the Russian speakers in the Baltic states, having previously accepted that the EU protects the rights of linguistic, as well as other minorities.

Some Russian officials, in a clearly waggish mood have been heard to express the view that the Baltic states will now be a headache for the Brussels as well as Moscow – another thing they will have in common.

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