In the midst of disputes over EU enlargement, the European Commission has produced a new framework for the Union’s relations with Russia. After a disastrous EU-Russia summit last year, the EU decided in December to review they way it does business with the country.
Led by the Italian Presidency at the summit, divisions between the EU’s member states were effectively exploited by Moscow. Silvio Berlusconi - the then President of the Council - shocked other EU leaders by apparently backing Russia’s actions in the breakaway Republic of Chechnya.
The Commission is now calling for more consistency:
"The EU needs to take a more coherent and more consistent approach to relations with Russia, which must be founded on the implementation of the common values underlying the bilateral partnership", reads a unusually strong statement from the Commission.
But even with polices on which the EU broadly agrees, relations have hardened.
Russia has so far refused to sign the bilateral agreement which forms the legal basis for relations between the EU and Russia before some of its demands are met.
Mixed up with the emotional baggage of the majority of the 10 states entering on 1 May being ex-Soviet satellites, the issues threaten to turn into a bitter row.
Speaking at a book launch yesterday (9 February) Estonia’s soon to be Commissioner, Siim Kallas said tersely that he wanted the EU to have "stable relations with Russia, and good relations with the Ukraine".
"[I]n many areas, EU and Russian positions appear to have diverged" said the Commission.
"These include ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the extension of the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) to the ten new EU Member States and the need to make it work more effectively, the approach to resolving frozen conflicts in the NIS as well as respect for the rule of law and human rights, particularly as regards media freedom and events in Chechnya".
"The EU and Russia should be ready, as strategic partners, to discuss frankly all issues of concern, including human rights, media freedom and events in Chechnya in addition to strengthening co-operation on concrete issues, on the basis of common interests".
Foreign Ministers will debate the document later this month at their meeting in Brussels.