Select Committee on European Union Twentieth Report



  Thank you for forwarding me the Select Committee's Report of EU/Russia relations.

  The Government supports the thrust of the Committee's findings and the Report's recommendation that the expanding EU must develop stronger political and economic relations with Russia. The Report represents a thorough and illuminating analysis of the issues at hand.

  Overall, the Government agrees that the EU should "adopt a longer-term strategy towards Russia, one that will enable Europe to encourage . . . transformation and to develop a more systematic and productive relationship with Russia in the decades ahead" (page 26 of the Report, paragraph 94). The Government is actively pursuing this agenda within the EU, in collaboration with our partners and the Commission. The addition of the 10 new member states will contribute to this dynamic.

  On the committee's main conclusions (as listed on page 5 of the Report), the Government's response is as follows:


  The Government believes that there is indeed scope, as the Committee suggests, for further consideration of the framework of EU/Russia relations. Though a firm position has not yet been adopted by the Council, it looks likely that the EU's Common Strategy on Russia will be reviewed next year. The Council is currently considering how the Common Strategy might be made more operational and concise. When these ideas are more developed, they will of course be deposited for scrutiny in the normal manner. The EU would also seek to secure a more positive response from Moscow to any new strategy that was developed.

  The Committee recommends that "There should be a single office within the Commission co-ordinating all mattes relevant to Russia" (page 5). In effect, within the Commission, DG Relex fulfils this function. The structures of the Union are such that the Council (and its Secretariat) shares responsibility for policy towards Russia with the Commission—and indeed has sole authority in certain areas of EU/Russia relations. However, the Government agrees on the need for improved EU coherence. We are optimistic that the debate on the effectiveness of EU external action in the context of the Convention on the Future of Europe will develop helpful conclusions in this regard.


  The Report states that "The current EU-Russia agreements are out of date" (page 5) and that the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) with Russia "no longer fully meets demand and in practice is effectively circumvented" (paragraph 85). The Government agrees that the EU-Russia relationship is outgrowing the PCA. But the PCA remains an important and useful tool and we want to see full implementation of its provisions, particularly those outstanding on trade and economic development. Implementation of these commitments will play a vital part in the future development of a closer EU-Russia relationship. The effectiveness of the PCA's existing structures, notably the Co-operation Council, Co-operation Committee and its sub-committees, could be enhanced, but they have delivered on important issues, for example in improving co-operation on customs and border-control. The new PCA Trade Dispute Settlement mechanism, though yet to be fully tested, should speed the resolution of technical trade issues and free up the agendas of the Co-operation Council and Committee for discussion of wider EU-Russia issues. Significantly, it was within the structures of the PCA that the arrangements for Kaliningrad transit were agreed.

  Nevertheless, the EU should continue to work to improve and rationalise the structures of its relations with Russia. In time, this might involve developing new arrangements. In this context, the Government has taken note of the Committee's conclusion that ". . . the time has arrived for the entire framework for relations with Russia to be recast to take fully into account the importance of recent events for EU-Russia relations . . ." (paragraph 32). This will take time; especially negotiating any new agreement.


  The Government agrees that a key element of enhancing the EU-Russia relationship will be a better mutual understanding—the Report notes that "On both sides of the EU-Russia relationship a better understanding of the other party would make for greater progress" (paragraph 45). The UK is doing a lot bilaterally through the British Council to introduce the internet, distance learning and English language teaching to areas of Russia which formerly had no access to such resources. Our EU partners and the Commission are working in a similar vein. The EU's assistance programme in Russia supports this objective through the Tempus programme. Tempus works with Russian educational structures to improve their facilities and curricula and to ensure that these better reflect the needs of a modern, European society. Tempus also provides individual mobility grants for Russian students to study in the EU and vice versa. (Tempus allocations are about

10,000,000 per year.)

  The EU also helped establish a leading resource centre in Moscow with its own team of researchers, which houses all EU documents and provides important educational support. The provision of technical assistance to the government through the TACIS programme also exposes Russian officials to experts on how the EU and its member states operate in key policy areas. The Government agrees that improving understanding of Russia in the EU is also important: parliamentary exchanges (including by MEPs) and more visits by officials and experts have a role to play here (paragraph 88).


  On those recommendations in the report (Part 7, pages 26-27) which are not covered by the key recommendations above, the Government's response is as follows:

  The Government agrees with the committee that Environment and in particular radiological protection, is of critical importance and that closer co-operation should be encouraged (paragraph 90). The Government is actively pursuing this agenda both through the EU and other fora. Key milestones this year which must be reached to ensure progress include Russian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which will allow entry into force of the Treaty, and conclusion of the Multilateral Nuclear Environment Programme for Russia (MNEPR) agreement. The MNEPR Agreement in particular will set the framework for the release of over a £100,000,000 of Western donor money over the next 10 years to assist in environmental clean up and nuclear safety work in North West Russia.

  The Report rightly highlights as a crucial issue in EU-Russia relations the question of Russia's accession to the WTO (paragraph 87). The Government fully agrees with the Committee that "the EU should support the goal of Russian membership of the WTO" (paragraph 21). The EU is currently doing so and has a programme of assistance specifically targeted at helping Russia meet the obligations of WTO membership. On a bilateral basis, the UK has been providing assistance with a DfID-sponsored implementation programme. Russian membership of the WTO will greatly facilitate the development of the EU-Russia trade relationship.

  As the Committee rightly observes, regulatory convergence is essential for progress towards creating a genuinely free trade area (paragraph 20), as envisaged in the proposal for a Common European Economic Space (CEES) (paragraph 86). The High Level Group, which is tasked with elaborating the concept of the Common European Economic Space, will report to the Autumn EU-Russia Summit. The Government hopes to see significant progress both on WTO accession and on the CEES by the end of this year.

  The Report notes that the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue will play an essential role in creating energy security for the EU in future years (paragraphs 25-31). The Government agrees and is encouraging the EU to use the Energy Dialogue with Russia to better effect, including by involving Member States more in guiding the Dialogue. However, it is for companies to agree commercial arrangements for energy supplies, including in oil (paragraph 89).

  The Government also agrees with the need identified in the report for joint action against terrorism. It was for this reason that the EU and Russia adopted their joint "Action Plan on the fight against terrorism" at the EU-Russia summit in Brussels on 11 November 2002. This includes, among other things, commitments to strengthen judicial co-operation on terrorist and organised crime offences, to exchange information on terrorism issues, to sign up promptly to the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and to work together to tackle terrorist financing.

  On Kaliningrad (paragraph 91), the Government welcomes recent progress, and looks to Russia and Lithuania to work together to implement the recommendations fully. Swift and effective implementation on both sides will ensure that the future security of the border is not compromised after accession. It is the responsibility of each Schengen member state to have the mechanisms in place to police their external borders satisfactorily. This applies equally to Lithuania. However, it is worth noting in this context that none of the accession states will be full Schengen members until the evaluation process is complete, in 2006. Lithuania and the other new members will therefore still have internal border controls with the rest of the EU until that time, completely independently of Lithuania's border arrangements with Kaliningrad.

  The Government agrees with the Committee about the importance of reform of the Russian military (paragraph 92). The Government believes that the dialogue between the European Union and Russia on the European Security and Defence Policy, although at an early stage, is developing well. Topics such as methods for participation in, and consultations on, security and defence matters have become established agenda items at recent EU-Russia Summits. With growing co-ordination between NATO and the EU, we envisage that it will become even easier to ensure that the relationship of both organisations with Russia is complementary. Indeed, Russia has expressed an interest in participating in ESDP operations in the Balkans and should soon be contributing to the EU Police mission to Bosnia.

Jack Straw

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