20th Russia-EU summit winds up in Portugal

The 20th Russia-EU summit ended in Portugal on Friday with a host of announcements on energy and economic issues from both Russia and the European Union.
MAFRA (Portugal), October 26 (RIA Novosti) - The 20th Russia-EU summit ended in Portugal on Friday with a host of announcements on energy and economic issues from both Russia and the European Union.

Speaking after the summit, President Putin said that Russia and the European Union had agreed to establish an early warning system to keep track of possible problems with energy supplies from Russia.

"During the meeting, stress was placed on the further consolidation of Europe's energy security... We agreed to continue work to establish an early warning mechanism in relation to deliveries and demand for energy from Russia to the EU," Putin told journalists.

Putin also proposed holding the next Russia-EU summit in Khanty-Mansiisk, western Siberia, in June 2008. Friday's Portuguese summit was aimed at addressing key energy and trade disputes, along with international issues.

"We are continuing the tradition of meetings with European partners in different Russian regions, and this time we proposed meeting in a dynamically developing region - Siberia, in Khanty-Mansiisk," the Russian leader said.

In August, the EU had intended to convene a group of government experts and representatives of fuel producers and consumers from EU member states to discuss Russian energy supply reliability, shortly after Russian energy giant Gazprom threatened to cut its natural gas deliveries to Belarus by 45% over the country's outstanding debt.

However, Minsk agreed to Gazprom's demands at the last minute, drawing on government reserves to pay the debt in full.

Gazprom's threat had sparked fears that Belarus could tap gas from pipelines transiting Russian gas to Europe, in a replay of a bitter price dispute with Ukraine in early 2006 which affected supplies to European consumers. The dispute raised concerns in Europe over excessive dependence on Gazprom as a supplier.

Portugal's prime minister said Putin had proposed establishing a Russia-EU institution for human rights.

"This is a step forward and we have to discuss this," Jose Socrates told a news conference following the Russia-EU summit.

An aide to President Putin, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said the proposed Russia-EU institution of freedom and democracy would not be a joint enterprise. "This is not a joint enterprise, this is a Russian institution that will be established in line with the laws of the EU member where we open it," he told journalists.

Socrates also said the summit was constructive and fruitful. He thanked Putin for efforts to create a strategic partnership between Russia and the European Union.

Putin was skeptical that Russian companies use petrodollars to buy up European assets.

"Rumors about the buy-up of all of Europe's assets by Russian petrodollars are exaggerated," he said.

He said the EU's accumulated investment in Russia is about 30 billion euros ($43.2 billion) compared with Russia's 3 billion euros ($4.3 billion) investment in the European economy.

Putin said Russia and the EU are for political, not military settlement to conflicts. "We stand for the priority of international law. For political, and not military, methods of conflict settlement," he said.

The Russian leader said he hopes the approval of a draft EU reform treaty will clarify the date of the start for talks on a new basic agreement between Russia and the EU.

Leaders from the EU's 27 member states reached last Friday a deal on a landmark reform treaty.

The 250-page reform treaty is to be signed on December 13 and then considered for approval by member states' respective national parliaments. The document enters into force in the second half of 2009 and is intended to replace the Constitution treaty rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. The document abandons any mention of the recognition of a European anthem and flag.

Relations between Moscow and Warsaw have been tense since Russia imposed a ban on meat products and fruit and vegetable deliveries from Poland in November 2005 in a row over sanitary standards.

In retaliation, Poland blocked talks on a new EU-Russia partnership agreement, and said it could bar Russia's entry to the WTO if Moscow failed to lift the meat embargo. The current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Russia and the EU was signed on June 24, 1994 in Corfu, Greece. The document came into force December 1, 1997 and expires at the end of 2007.

Yastrzhembsky said the old document could be extended by one year.

Putin said Russia is ready to allocate 122 million euros ($176 million) to implement in 2008-2013 Russia-EU border cooperation programs. "In the coming five years Russia is ready to allocate the necessary funds to that," he said.

Yastrzhembsky said before the summit that the sum "exceeds to a large extent the EU's minimum request," adding that in line with an agreement with the EU, Russia should allot funds worth at least 10% of the programs' total cost. He said Russia is switching to equal relations with the EU from the "donor-recipient" scheme. Putin also underlined the significance of the move.

Yastrzhembsky said Russia had informed the EU of its negative attitude toward a recent EU energy initiative, referring to, in particular, the envisioned division of energy companies.

The European Commission published in October a package of measures to protect the EU's domestic energy market, stipulating in particular the restriction of foreign investment into the European energy sector, as well as the division of energy production and infrastructure for its transportation.

Both measures affect Gazprom, which not only produces gas but is a large investor in infrastructure connected with natural gas supplies to Europe.

Yastrzhembsky also said Russia may introduce retaliatory measures against countries violating the Russia-EU visa facilitation agreement. "This relates to France, Spain, Germany and Belgium," Sergei Yastrzhembsky told journalists, adding that a number of countries deviate from the principles of visa regulation facilitation.

He said France, Spain, Germany and Belgium established so-called service centers for Russians wishing to obtain visas, which resulted in visas becoming 70% more expensive for those who want to travel to the Schengen zone via those countries.

The Russia-EU agreement on visa facilitation and readmission was signed in May 2006. It was aimed at creating favorable conditions for the development and expansion of reciprocal contacts by citizens and official representatives of Russia and EU members.

It also envisions a simplified procedure to process visas for official delegations, journalists, businessmen, scientists, culture and education figures and students heading to study abroad.

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