The EU-Russia partnership officially commenced in 1994, when the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was signed. The agreement was augmented with the TACIS programme for technical assistance. The major areas of cooperation are economic (including trade), political, legislative and institutional.
The present meeting was intended to discuss issues of trade, energy partnership, defence and security and human rights. Unsurprisingly, economic cooperation and trade agreements were easiest to set out. Russia and the EU are now to examine the use of the EURO as opposed to the US dollar in their future economic relations. Both sides believe that this will "help increase European trade and investment in Russia," as EU Commission President Romano Prodi pointed out. They are also to establish a high-level expert group to elaborate the concept of a Common European Economic Space (CEES).
In the sphere of political partnership, there was a mutual agreement to deepen security cooperation. This commitment ran parallel to talks between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and is followed by a meeting between George W Bush and Vladimir Putin next month. It is believed that the controversial US Missile Defence project will be on top of the agenda there.
At the same time, the two sides failed to come to an agreement to establish a strategic partnership on energy issues (the so-called Energy Dialogue). A common position on the disposal of Russian nuclear waste and aged nuclear submarines turned out to be impossible, too.
Among the other EU concerns that remained unresolved were the issue of human rights, especially in light of the conflict in Chechnya, and the freedom of the press under President Putin. Russia, in turn, hoped to achieve some progress on the future of Kaliningrad once its neighbours join the EU, but little seemed to have been done about it at this meeting.
Another round of enlargement negotiations
EU member states held another round of enlargement negotiations with Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Romania in Brussels on 17 May. Talks with the rest of the candidate states (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovenia) were rescheduled from 18 May to 1 June because of a deadlock among the members.
Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia closed the chapter on Company Law. Cyprus and Slovakia concluded talks on Freedom to Provide Services. Chapters on Social Policy and Employment and Telecommunications and IT were also closed with Slovakia, which turned out to have made the most progress during the negotiations. Free Movement of Capital and Free Movement of Goods were concluded with Latvia and Lithuania, respectively. Cyprus put behind it the chapters on the Energy and Transport Policy, while Bulgaria only managed to finalise negotiations on the chapter regarding Fisheries.
Overall, Cyprus leads the EU race with 21 out of 30 negotiation chapters settled, closely followed by Slovenia and Estonia with 18 closed chapters each.
Negotiations with the rest of the accession states have been delayed because of escalating disagreements among member states on the free movement of Eastern European workers after enlargement. Following a number of informal meetings and negotiations on the structural reform of the union, members have finally reached, maybe to their own surprise only, the deadlock of realpolitik.
Spain and, lately, Italy, with increased confidence after its general elections, have officially expressed their reservations regarding the pace of the enlargement process. In other words, they have a growing concern over the post-enlargement distribution of structural funds. In a an effort to generate EU-wide engagement with the reform of regional subsidies, Spain has blocked an agreement on transition periods for the movement of people (from candidate states) put forward by Germany and Austria. As a result, negotiations with the more advanced accession states cannot proceed because they will have to touch on the chapter of Free Movement of People.
Consequently, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh criticised Spain's actions as "irresponsible" and insisted that negotiations were not postponed due to a political problem. The official EU stance on the current stalemate is that talks are delayed because of "technical problems."
According to the EU roadmap for enlargement set out at the Nice Summit last year, a common position on the free movement of workers should be established by the end of the Swedish Presidency in June.
Bulgaria receives EU farm aid
On 15 May, the EU Commission decided to confer the management of its pre-accession farm aid (SAPARD) to the Bulgarian authorities. This makes Bulgaria the first candidate state to effectively implement the programme. The aim of this decentralisation of management control is to prepare accession states for handling EU funds. The EU Commission has accredited national SAPRAD agencies in each candidate country.
NATO workshop on cancer for CEE
Against a background of widespread perception of environmental degradation in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, backed up recently by scientific observations of an increase in breast, prostate and thyroid tumours among CEE populations, a NATO international cancer workshop was held in Białystok, Poland.
During the discussions, which took place from 8 to 12 May and focused on Endocrine Disruptions and Carcinogenic Risk Assessment, nearly 50 experts from 15 countries tried to define the problem and its scope and, more importantly, to come up with a concrete approach to the effective collecting of data.
The workshop was sponsored by the NATO Science Programme.
NATO to stay in Bosnia?
NATO had to once again confirm the extent of its commitment in Bosnia-Hercegovina after US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated his intention of withdrawing 3300 US troops from the republic. His decision is based on the belief that the mission in Bosnia was no longer of a military nature, he said in an interview for the Washington Post.
NATO, however, insisted there were basic differences between Pentagon and NATO policy views. A NATO official, quoted in the FT, said: "Our position within NATO has not changed. There is no indication from our US (NATO) partners they intend to pull out."
Most officials within the Alliance hold the view that the need for military presence in Bosnia is far from gone, especially after renewed violence on part of Croatian and Serbian nationalists in the past few weeks. "We have not yet reached the stage that we can leave and rely on a police force to provide security," said another.
If the US was to really pull out, it would simply be another sign of the highly intergovernmental nature of the alliance&—and pure inter-governmentalism is not the most adequate approach to current trans-national relations.
Ivana Gogova and Branimira Radoslavova,
19 May 2001
NATO Official Homepage
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