EU-Russian Visa Regime Hot Topic at Summit
Published: December 26, 2012 (Issue # 1741)
MOSCOW Ś TheáEuropean Union insists that Russia agree toáits terms foráa visa facilitation agreement before any progress can be made toward aávisa-free travel regime.
This is theámessage fromáFridayĺs EU-Russia summit.
Theátalks between President Vladimir Putin andáEU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso andáEU Council chief Hermann van Rompuy ináBrussels were dominated byávisa andáenergy issuesáŚ none ofáwhich saw any significant breakthrough.
Barroso said atáa joint news conference with Putin after theátalks that ináorder toáachieve ôpositive dynamicsö foráa visa waiver, it was important toáreach aámore modest agreement that would make travel easier foráa range ofáprofessional groups, according toáaátranscriptáonáthe Kremlinĺs website.
Talks about aávisa facilitation agreement have been dormant forámore than aáyear because Moscow demands visa-free entry forágovernment officials, something theáEuropeans categorically refuse.
Putin did not respond toáthe trade-off atáFridayĺs news conference, andáhe reiterated his position that scrapping visas would remove aásignificant hurdle toáinvestment. He said that ôall technical questions were solvedö andáthat all that was needed foráa visa waiver now was aápolitical decision byáthe European Union.
Despite Putinĺs claim, theáôcommon stepsö program toáachieve theátechnical conditions foráabolishing visas is ongoing between theáEU andáRussiaáŚ andáis nowhere close toácompletion.
According toáEU diplomats, both sides just finished two ofáfour areas covered byáthe program.
Theácommon steps do not lead automatically toávisa-free travel, but their completion is aáprecondition foránegotiations about this toástart. European officials are adamant that there is no time frame foráthis, whereas Russian officials have said they want toásee visas scrapped before theáSochi Olympics ináFebruary 2014.
Putin argued that Russian tourists were important foráthe crisis-hit European economy because they spend more than 18 billion euros ($23.7 billion) ináshops ináEU countries each year.
ôThe lack ofáa visa-free regime constrains theáfuture development ofáeconomic ties,ö he said.
Barroso countered that EU countries gave 5.26 million visas toáRussians iná2011 andáthat visitor numbers were up 62 percent. ôThis ů means theásystem works relatively smoothly,ö he said.
Putin also renewed his criticism ofáthe EUĺs third energy package, aáset ofáregulations that forces suppliers toáunbundle their assets inámember countriesáŚ andámainly hits energy giant Gazprom.
Speaking atáthe beginning ofáFridayĺs talks, he called theálaw ôuncivilizedö andásaid it destroyed mutual trust. He reiterated his argument that theápackage violated previous agreements with theáEU because it took retroactive effect.
ôWe see theáactions taken byásome ofáour partners inásome countries as aáconfiscation ofáRussian investment,ö he said atáthe news conference.
Barroso replied that theárules apply equally foráall companies, regardless ofáwhere they are from. ôYour companies are most welcome ináthe EU market. But they have toárespect fully our rules,ö he told Putin, adding that ôwe have theárule ofálaw, andátoday part ofáthis law is theáthird energy package.ö
However, Putin retorted that Barroso was wrong: ôMy good old friend Mr. Barroso outlined his position inásuch great detail, so emotionally, because he knows he is wrong. ů Please look atáour agreement, Article 34. Read it,ö he said with reference toáa partnership andácooperation agreement between Russia andáthe EU, which has been functioning since theá1990s andáwhich theáEU is keen toáreplace.
EU restrictions have prevented Gazprom fromásubstantially increasing gas supplies via its Nord Stream pipeline through theáBaltic Sea. Moscow is also seeking anáexemption fromáEU regulations foráthe planned South Stream pipeline, designed toástart carrying gas under theáBlack Sea iná2015.