President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
The 29th Russia-European Union summit has just ended. Our meeting was certainly useful. Russia and the EU face common challenges, especially in the economy and the financial sector, and this requires us to take timely action to coordinate our approaches to the similar tasks we must address.
I think my colleagues will agree that this summit has reaffirmed the priority nature of the Russia-EU strategic partnership and our common understanding of the need to move forward so that people in both Russia and the EU feel the tangible benefits our partnership brings.
We updated our colleagues on developments in the integration processes underway in the CIS area, including with regard to their prospective impact on shaping relations between Russia and the EU. We are sure that the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space, and in the future perhaps the Eurasian Economic Union too, are entirely compatible with the objectives of strengthening Russia’s relations with the EU.
It was important of course to discuss work on the new basic agreement between Russia and the EU. Both sides reiterated their interest in drafting a document that will set out strategic goals that meet today’s needs.
The new basic agreement’s trade and economic section is the main stumbling block at the moment. We agreed to continue informal consultations to find mutually acceptable solutions to the issues involved. We examined together the trade and economic cooperation opportunities that Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation opens up and discussed how we can use these opportunities to develop our trade and economic ties and settle the remaining problems.
”The Customs Union and the Common Economic Space, and in the future perhaps the Eurasian Economic Union too, are entirely compatible with the objectives of strengthening Russia’s relations with the EU.“
I take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the EU and the European Commission for consistently supporting the Russian Federation in its accession to the World Trade Organisation.
We also discussed the matter of introducing visa-free travel between Russia and the EU countries. The existing visa barriers are clearly putting a brake on development of our humanitarian contacts and economic ties.
We analysed the progress made so far in implementing the Partnership for Modernisation joint initiative. We will continue this work so as to carry out a number of big joint projects involving the Russian and EU business communities and our financial institutions. Our big financial institutions have already concluded agreements in this area.
Energy cooperation was one of the main subjects of discussion at the plenary session and is one of the main areas of our economic cooperation. There are still some matters that require additional examination and regulation, but I hope that, given the proven importance of Russia-EU cooperation in energy sector, we will find solutions acceptable to both sides.
We drew our partners’ attention to what we consider a sore point – the unilateral EU decision to extend the European emission quota system to cover third-party countries’ civil aviation starting from January 1, 2012.
We discussed the humanitarian dialogue between Russia and the EU and examined the main issues on the international agenda, the situation in Syria, Iran, the Middle East, and a number of other regions.
Summing up, I want to say that today’s discussion was productive. Of course, our views do not coincide on all issues, but I think we succeeded in reaffirming our commitment to our chosen course and have sent a clear political signal in favour of intensifying our cooperation. Now we must keep up the pace and keep moving forward.
I thank our partners and the experts who worked hard to prepare today’s meeting.
Thank you very much for your attention.
PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL HERMAN VAN ROMPUY: Thank you for your hospitality. It has been a pleasure to have been invited here to this beautiful place in the vicinity of St Petersburg.
This is my first summit with you, Mr President. But it is my clear understanding that we even this time, at the 29th EU-Russia summit, have confirmed our joint commitment to further develop the EU-Russia strategic partnership.
As you all know, the results of the two last years are remarkable: the Russian WTO accession, the Partnership for Modernisation, and the common steps towards visa-free travel. The EU-Russia relationship is enjoying its best dynamics for years.
However, there is still much we need to do in order to untap what is potentially possible.
Strong political will and hard work will therefore be needed even in the coming years.
I therefore welcome President Putin's commitment to bringing this work further together with the EU.
We had also talks on our broad bilateral agenda and on global issues, such as the economy, and some of the more pressing international issues. I would like to highlight the following points.
First, on the economy. For Europe these are testing times. But we are driven by a clear determination to work our way through the challenges.
We are aiming at strengthening growth in the European Union. There are many initiatives in the making, and we will take further decisions for growth and jobs and the European Council in June.
We are also addressing systemic challenges for the Economic and Monetary Union as such. We must strengthen the monetary union by more banking, fiscal, economic integration and enhanced governance and democratic accountability. I'm working on building blocks for the deepening of the Economic Monetary Union in close cooperation with, inter alia, the President of the European Commission and report to European Council in June.
Let me be clear, there is no way back for the Euro. There is only the way ahead towards more integration.
We want Greece to stay in the eurozone, while respecting its commitments.
Second, on the EU-Russia bilateral relationship: we reconfirmed that the best basis for a closer partnership should be an ambitious and comprehensive bilateral new agreement that includes trade and investments. In this context we look forward to the ratification of Russia’s WTO accession.
The idea of the Eurasian Economic Union, if based on the WTO-rules, could lead to positive contribution to trade, prosperity and cooperation.
Third, the EU wants to be Russia's partner in its modernisation. That is why I see the further development of the Partnership for Modernisation as one of the priorities in our relations. It should be a partnership that covers all aspects of modernisation: the economy, society and the rule of law.
I made the point today that a vibrant civil society should in this respect be seen as an integral part for real modernisation. The greater engagement of civil society opens opportunities for the further development of political institutions and pluralism in Russia, which should not be missed. Civil society was a force of progress in our own history and they can be one in yours, in Russia's.
Four, visa-free travel remains our common goal. Easier contacts between people are the backbone of closer relations and benefits all of us. I therefore welcome the active work on the implementation of the “common steps”, and the progress made in negotiations on an upgraded EU-Russia Visa Facilitation Agreement.
Five, on human rights. It is welcome that Russia shows readiness for public debate on human rights, as exemplified by the recent hearing in the Russian State Duma. This is a recognition that human rights concerns are a matter of direct concern to all. And that is why these issues together with the rule of law and preservations of political rights need to be addressed.
We have invited Russia to the next round of EU-Russia Human Rights consultations to Brussels on June 29. Next time, we hope for Russia to host the consultations.
Finally, we had discussions on a range of foreign policy issues.
On Syria, let me first say that the situation is appalling. The Syrian regime should immediately cease all forms of violence and provide its full support to the UN Supervision Mission (UNSMIS).
The European Union and Russia might have some diverging assessments, but we fully agree that the Annan Plan as a whole provides the best opportunity to break the cycle of violence in Syria, avoiding a civil war, and in finding a peaceful lasting solution.
We need to combine our efforts in order for this to happen, and to find common messages on which we agree. We need to work towards an immediate stop of all forms of violence in Syria, and towards process of political transition.
On Iran, we agree on the urgent need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The EU and Russia are working closely together and with other partners on this issue, and we look forward to the next round of talks in Moscow, where the EU High Representative, Cathy Ashton, will lead the negotiations of six countries with Iran.
”The existing visa barriers are clearly putting a brake on development of our humanitarian contacts and economic ties.“
As regards our common neighbourhood, I reiterated the EU's support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. We believe Russia should fully implement the 2008 commitments.
Lastly, the EU welcomes Russia's constructive approach in the ‘5+2’ negotiations in the Transnistria conflict.
Mr President, it has been a pleasure to have attended this constructive summit. I look forward to seeing you in Brussels next time.
President of The European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso: President Putin,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank President Putin for his warm welcome here in the St Petersburg region.
I have always valued a frank and open dialogue with President Putin. Indeed, we had this kind of dialogue during this summit. I believe it is particularly appropriate that we hold this EU-Russia summit so early in the beginning of this mandate of the President of Russia and also in the beginning of a new government.
Russia and Europe are experiencing important political, economic and social transformations. A new cycle is opening and this offers us the opportunity to look ahead and think strategically on our cooperation, what we want to achieve and where we want to be in five years' time and further ahead.
In recent years we have made significant progress on a number of issues, namely on the agreement for Russia's WTO accession – an objective that as you know the European Union and the European Commission have always supported. There was also some progress on visa and mobility, and on our Partnership for Modernisation. Therefore the purpose of this summit was to consolidate the progress achieved and to launch the basis for a closer cooperation.
Last evening we had a comprehensive exchange of views on the global economic situation and the latest developments in Russia and in Europe. Let me on this regard just mention our full confidence in the future of the euro area and of the European Union. In fact the debate now in the European Union is not how we are going to undo the integration. The debate is about how we are going to further deepen the integration to complement our monetary union with a full economic union, including in some areas like the banking sector supervision and also in some fiscal aspects.
So, no one should be in any doubt – there is absolute commitment in the European Union and in the euro area to the euro and to the solidity and further integration of all our efforts. And I think this is important for Russia, because Russia is our largest neighbour and a very close strategic partner. We should build upon our strong ties and advance the negotiations on the new comprehensive EU-Russia Agreement, which should cover all the relevant areas of our partnership, including trade, investment and energy provisions and lay the basis of a closer relation. I am convinced that with the firm commitment of both sides we will achieve a balanced and ambitious agreement that will be both beneficial for Russia and for the European Union.
The EU is already Russia's biggest commercial partner, accounting for around 50% of all Russian trade. It is also the biggest source of foreign direct investment. The EU is the biggest client of the most important export from Russia, I mean energy. And Russia's WTO accession opens additional opportunities for trade and for the development of our bilateral economic relations. We believe this can be very important for the future.
Our Partnership for Modernisation is now in a phase of full implementation and I am happy to say that President Putin sees it as a priority. Russia is engaged in a very important process and we are very proud to be partners of Russia in that regard.
Building a partnership between our societies means also having closer relations between our peoples. This is why visa issues and mobility issues are so important. We are now engaged in the implementation of the “common steps towards visa-free travel” that we launched in the last summit. We welcome the substantial progress made in negotiations on an upgraded EU-Russia Visa Waiver Agreement, which should be finalised soon. Positive developments in this field have clear potential benefits to our citizens and for people-to-people contacts.
On energy, we welcome the progress in the energy dialogue and the close EU-Russia energy partnership. I stressed that a reliable, transparent and rules-based energy framework remains a key priority for the EU.
This summit confirmed the important common interests that we share and our willingness to build stronger relations and work even closer together. As the most famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who studied, lived and died in St Petersburg, once wrote: “we can try and fail, but we should not fail to try.” The European Union is looking forward to try — and not to fail — is looking forward to try and to succeed. And I am sure that we will succeed in the partnership with Russia.
I thank you for your attention.
Question (re-translated): A great deal of work is being done to establish a banking union to promote banking in the EU. What happens if these important steps do not succeed? Does this put the survival of the euro at risk?
(In Russian): Mr Putin, leaflets were distributed today at the hotel where the Kremlin pool is staying, “No to the Russian Pinochet” and “Hundreds of opposition members have been imprisoned at the will of this man.” And finally: “Putin behind bars, Barroso to the pillory.” How would you respond to that? Thank you.
”We have to introduce such provisions of European law into Russian legislation, provisions that are used in many European countries, on regulating the activities of this kind.“
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the so-called political prisoners in Russia, I can tell you that wherever I go only one issue is raised again and again: the fate of Mr Khodorkovsky. As you know, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that there were no political motives in the criminal case and the verdict against Mr Khodorkovsky. So should I end up behind bars, I’ll be in good company.
As for other similar cases, you must give me a list of specific names. Who are we talking about? I am aware that administrative sanctions are imposed against those who violate relevant regulations on holding public events. As far as I know, all of them are free now, getting ready to stage new protests. That is normal. The only thing we have to do is to introduce such provisions of European law into Russian legislation, provisions that are used in many European countries, on regulating the activities of this kind. These regulations are absolutely democratic, but at the same time they establish a certain procedure for holding public events.
Now, with regard to the call to nail Mr Barroso to the pillory. I think what the authors of this “memo” have in mind is Mr Barroso’s position on the third energy package. I should inform all interested parties that we have expressed our concern about this document and hope that we can resolve these issues through negotiations. In any case, we believe it is unacceptable to extend this and other similar documents retroactively to the contracts that were concluded before the decision was made on the third energy package. But in general I can say that I feel some sympathy for the authors of this “memo”. The only question is why it should have been distributed in such an unusual way. We have other opportunities to express our views. As you know, a number of laws were adopted just recently liberalising the activities of political parties. Now any group of 500 people can establish a political party, nominate its candidates to the regional parliaments, to the federal legislature, declare their position publicly and fight for the realisation of the ideals they consider to be correct and fair.
Jose Manuel Barroso: Regarding the issue that was now mentioned by President Putin about the third energy package, I had the occasion during the summit to clarify our position. This is agreed legislation for all the member-states, and it will be implemented in an objective and non-discriminatory manner. And I believe all aspects of it are fully compatible with international law.
It is important to understand that the internal market is in constant evolution. Decisions to liberalise several sectors – not only energy, but also telecommunications, postal services, and so on and so forth – are taken to increase competition and transparency, and not to create any difficulty for any operator. Regarding Russian operators, they are more than welcome in the European energy internal market. They are indeed welcome, and in fact, they are already benefitting – for instance, downstream of some openings that this third energy package is giving to them.
Having said this, we are always ready to discuss with our Russian partners and other partners any specific concerns that may happen in a specific way of implementing this legislation in this or that member-state, and in fact we are doing so, because we want to keep the confidence in our energy relationship with Russia, and we very much value this relationship. It is, I believe, very important, both for Russia and for the European Union. So this third energy package was indeed, as President Putin just mentioned, one of the issues that we have discussed. I cannot say that we fully agree, but I think we can say that there is now a real willingness on both sides to engage constructively in the discussion of many aspects of a very important relationship – that is the energy relationship between Russia and the European Union.
Herman Van Rompuy: I have to answer on your more precise question on banking integration. You recall that I received a mandate from the European Council last week to draft a report on a deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union. I will make this report in close cooperation with, inter alia, the President of the European Commission. In this report, I will mention the main building blocks for this deepened Economic and Monetary Union. And I will make a proposal on the working method to achieve this objective. In those building blocks, banking integration is an important chapter. And in the chapter of banking integration, I will deal, at this stage, on supervision, on deposit insurance, and on resolution.
So we are working on it. It is the beginning only of the work. I will present building blocks and a working method, and we will go on with that work later on, and hopefully we can achieve and present results of that work already by the end of this year.
What will happen if we fail? I never answer to hypothetical questions, because we will not fail – we will not fail. In the meantime, we have to deal with banking problems in several of our member-states, and what we are working on in the deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union is in some ways irrelevant for those immediate problems, and those immediate problems, we have to tackle them together with the member-states.
Question: The situation in the global economy is very difficult, and the euro zone affects the level of prices on energy resources supplied by Russia. Therefore, this is a double question for Mr Rompuy and Mr Barroso. You keep repeating like a mantra that everything will be all right, that we will succeed. However, do you believe Europe will be able to come to agreement on ways to recover from the crisis, taking into account the positions of Germany and France? Do you expect a new attack on the euro zone from Spain or Portugal?
And a question to Mr Putin. How could a difficult economic situation in the euro zone affect this and next year’s volume of energy supplies from Russia to Europe? Is it possible that Russia may have to adjust its budget this and next year because of falling oil prices? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Let me begin so that my colleagues have a chance to gather their thoughts.
Naturally, the economic situation in Europe has a direct impact on the economy of the Russian Federation. We are closely linked. As I have already said, our trade amounted to $394 billion last year, and in 2010 it was $306 billion, which shows very healthy growth in one year. Clearly, if the processes underway in Europe lead to a recession, to a shrinking of the economy and the amount of energy consumed as well as of other products from Russia (i.e. the products of metallurgical industry, chemical industry and so on), then the volume will also be reduced. This will have a direct impact on us. Therefore, we hope that our colleagues in the European Union can successfully cope with today’s challenges. Judging by what we heard yesterday and today, our European colleagues are ready to put up a fight, their approach is highly professional, and I say this with full understanding of the situation, and this gives us confidence that these are not just empty words but a sound and coherent policy. I agree with Mr Rompuy that the outlook is optimistic, if we don’t have any unpleasant surprises. We are ready to contribute to this process in every possible way because it is in our best interest.
With regard to our budget issues, initially we calculated budget revenues this year based on the oil price of $100 dollars per barrel and later revised it up, based on $115 per barrel, but stipulated that any revenues over $100 per barrel will go into the reserve fund. That means if oil price is less that $115, we will just have less revenues for the reserve fund, that’s all. Next year’s budget was initially planned based on $97 per barrel. Therefore, the budget has not been adopted in its final form, and we will see how the situation evolves in the global and the European economy, and adjust it accordingly. In any case, we do not expect any serious shocks and will be able to respond quickly to any developments.
Jose Manuel Barroso: I would like to say – by the way, President Putin already mentioned it – that in fact, 2011 was already a year of growth of Russian exports in gas to Europe. So it shows that sometimes, all the talk about these consequences of the situation in Europe is very much exaggerated. Not only is Europe by far the biggest buyer of Russian gas, but there has been an increase last year, in spite of the situation, of some difficulties that exist in Europe, about which we are extremely open, that we discuss with all our partners and of course also with Russia.
From that point of view, I would like to thank President Putin for the words he just had regarding his confidence in the determination of the European Union leaders and euro area leaders to overcome these difficulties. I can tell you that I also have full confidence in that determination. There are, of course, difficulties, but those difficulties are in some member-states. Overall, the euro area is the best position of many of our counterparts, in terms of macroeconomic stability. But it is true that because the euro has not yet completed all the instruments of financial integration, we need to go further. And that is exactly, as President Van Rompuy just mentioned, what we are doing now at the European level.
Some of these measures take time. And the message we conveyed to our partners around the world and that we discussed yesterday evening with the President of Russia is precisely to explain the difficulties, the challenges, in a very objective manner, but also the complex responses we are bringing. And the response in Europe certainly cannot be one of artificially now creating growth. It would be a mistake. It would be a mistake also for our partners.
The interest for Europe and for our partners is to have sustainable growth in Europe. And to have sustainable growth in Europe, we need fiscal consolidation, because some countries have gone over what was reasonable in terms of public debt and deficits – it is of course to promote stricter reforms for comparing this, and also in some cases, targeted investment. And this is very important to understand, and I’m sure that our partners have an interest in that Europe gets out of the current difficulties with sustainable growth, and not something that is purely artificial. That would not be the right response.
And so from that point of view, it was also a very good summit –the one we had today and yesterday – because it allowed us to understand, for instance, what are the main challenges for Russia, because there are also challenges here for Russia, but what are the challenges for us in the European Union, and if I may, there is, for me, a very obvious conclusion: that we need to do more together. I really believe that it is in the interest of the European Union and Russia, that are so close and with such an important relationship, to do more things together. Because trade investment is also a very important driver for growth, and that is precisely the conclusion that I draw from our talks today and yesterday.
Herman Van Rompuy: I would like to add some comments, very briefly. We have to put a lot of new answers in this blaming, in some way, of the euro zone, for the so-called problems of the world economy.
First of all, we have our problems, they are very well known, but world economic growth is also suffering from problems in some of the emerging economies – not the Russian economy, of course, but some of the emerging countries are facing huge problems. And also, this is an element of explaining a certain slowdown of the economic growth. So the euro zone is not the main player responsible for slower economic growth on the world scale.
The second nuance is that by the end of this year, we will have positive economic growth in the euro zone as a whole, and even rather strong recovery in western European countries, and for 2013, we have in any case positive economic growth between one and two per cent.
The last nuance on growth is that what we are living now – what we are experiencing now – you can’t compare this with the huge financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 coming from the other side of the ocean. Then, at that time, we had overall in Europe, in the European Union, a recession of minus four per cent. We are not at that stage. Even the worst figures are minus 0.3 per cent for this year. So we have to compare what has to be compared.
The last remark is, can we overcome this crisis with, again, agreements in the European Union? I have now chaired fifteen meetings of the European Council – fifteen. There was never a failure. Each time we made progress. There is much more European integration now than there was three or four years ago. According to some, it is too little and too late, but each time, we agreed with 17 or with 27. And we will do so again, on the growth agenda in June, and on the building blocks for deepening the Economic and Monetary Union. At the end of the process, we will have more Europe, not less Europe. And we will overcome this crisis step by step. It will take time, because the problems in some of our member-states are profound problems. We had the necessary tools in the beginning to deal with the crisis. We have now set into motion a lot of new instruments. But again, each European Council was a productive one, and those of June and December will also be the case. And let me assure you that France and Germany are not the only ones in the European Union, in the euro zone. I’m quite convinced that a long tradition of cooperation will continue between those two countries, but we need the consent not of two countries, we need the consent of 17 in the euro zone and 27. And that’s my responsibility.
Question: I have a question for President Putin and Mr Barroso, practically one and the same question, but from different angles.
During your previous term in office you said that Russia’s accession would facilitate and give impetus to drafting a new basic agreement. How true is this assertion today now that oil prices have dropped, the media are writing about the negative effects WTO membership could have on some sectors of Russia’s economy, and Russia has joined the Customs Union? Does this statement still hold true?
(re-translated) Mr Barroso, how will Russia’s integration into the WTO influence the new partnership and cooperation agreement?
Vladimir Putin: Let’s start with the WTO.
We are fully aware of the risks that WTO accession will bring for some sectors of the Russian economy. But the instruments that the WTO rules will put at our disposal give us hope that we will be able to put them to use in such a way as to minimise these risks in sectors concerned, namely, agriculture, agricultural machinery, the automotive industry and others. We have already begun to use some of these instruments. I stress that they in full accordance with the WTO rules, and other WTO members use them too.
During the negotiations, including with European countries, we agreed on a transition period for some economic sectors and activities and will introduce WTO demands in stages, gradually lowering the customs barriers and taking on other commitments. In actual fact, even after Russia joins the WTO, the level of customs protection will be a lot higher than it is in Ukraine, say. This worries us more than WTO accession itself, given that Ukraine is a big trade and economic partners.
”We agreed on a transition period for some economic sectors and activities and will introduce WTO demands in stages, gradually lowering the customs barriers and taking on other commitments.“
Overall, this is a serious issue that requires the Russian Government’s close attention. At the same time, we will respect and implement the agreements we have concluded.
We have already been working for a long time on drafting a new basic agreement and continued the discussions on this today. We make no secret of the fact that, during the talks, our European colleagues raise issues and demands that, in our view, go beyond the limits of the obligations the Russian Federation took on when it joined the WTO. You could call this a kind of ‘WTO plus’ approach. We cannot at this point agree to these proposals. We have only just concluded the WTO accession negotiations, including with the EU, and have settled and signed everything, and we cannot take on extra obligations right now. This would mean either extending these new obligations to the other WTO member countries as well, or going beyond our package of agreements with the other countries and establishing special relations of some sort with the EU, ignoring the other WTO members’ interests. But we are listening to what each other has to say and will discuss these problems with maximum attentiveness and thoroughness at the professional expert level.
Regarding the Customs Union, the Common Economic Space, and our continued rapprochement with the EU, we do not see any contradictions between these processes. For a start, when we drafted the Customs Union’s and Common Economic Space’s rules, we based ourselves entirely on the WTO principles. What’s more, our partners, Kazakhstan and Belarus, took the unprecedented decision of agreeing that the conditions for Russia’s accession to the WTO will apply to them too. They agreed to what I think was a very bold and courageous step on the part of their political leaderships, and I think that the EU should take this into consideration and give them their full support in joining the WTO.
Jose Manuel Barroso: The relation between the WTO membership of Russia and the new agreement – first of all, it is obvious that this new agreement has to be compatible with the WTO. And as you know, we have very much supported the WTO membership of Russia. In fact, what was strange was that Russia was not a member of the WTO. It was the only major economy that was not a member. And so it’s quite natural that now this happens. It’s not a secret that we have very much supported it. In fact, in the final negotiations, it’s also not a secret that I also spoke with then-Prime Minister Putin to try to handle some issues that were still pending, and I’m very happy about the cooperation, so that Russia is now becoming a full member of the WTO. And I’m sure this is also in the interest of the Russian people for all reasons. It’s true that there are some transitional issues to be safeguarded, and in fact, Russia was able to address these issues in a very, let’s say, determined way.
Now, today we also had a very good discussion about this new agreement, and our understanding, if I remember correctly, was that in the new agreement, there will be parts related to trade and investment. As it was in fact agreed in a previous summit, it will be a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced agreement covering the most important areas of our cooperation.
But our intention is not at all to ask Russia for new tariff reductions beyond what was already done in the WTO. At the same time, we believe there are some issues that are trade-related that are important, for instance, regulatory convergence, that can make life easier for businessmen both in Russia and in the European Union, and we would like to discuss this with our Russian partners. And of course, as President Putin said, this is now something for our experts to meet and negotiate. But we believe there is a potential not adding more obligations to the WTO – not at all, that is not our intention, and of course we certainly respect Russia’s position – but to put an important part of our new agreement covering the very important economic relationship between Russia and the European Union. So this was, I think the conclusion of today’s good exchanges on this matter.
Question: Continuing the matter of the Common Economic Space, did you discuss its cooperation prospects with the EU? Do you think a free trade zone could be created?
My second question is about visas. Officials tell us regularly about the progress achieved. The two latest reports, whether Russian or European, come to 200 pages each and a tender has even been announced for their translation. But at the same time, I am one of those journalists who, along with millions of Russian citizens, constantly runs into problems with getting a Schengen visa.
President Putin already mentioned what happened during the visit to France, and I saw Mr Barroso smile there. My question for the EU leaders is: are there real prospects for abolishing visas, or is this matter not being considered now?
Vladimir Putin: On the visa issue, you know our position. We are moving forward, and we are ready to move even faster towards introducing visa-free travel. The ball is in our European partners’ court to a large extent, and we understand their difficulties.
As Mr Barroso said, this is not just a matter for the Commission, but also a question of reaching agreement between the two dozen-odd countries, each of which has its own position. But I think that fears of being flooded by labour migrants from Russia are greatly exaggerated.
The same goes for criminals. The criminals who wish to be in Europe are already there and travel back and forth without visas, using the various means at their disposal. As a rule, the people who suffer the most from these visa rules are law-abiding businesspeople, journalists, or ordinary citizens wanting to stay in personal contact with their friends and relatives in Europe or Russia.
I hope we will make swifter progress than has been the case so far and will ultimately come to an agreement. Russia is ready for this.
To answer the other part of your question, I can only add to what I already said, namely, that I think there is a need for direct talks between the Common Economic Space Commission and the European Commission. I think we need such talks because we have delegated some responsibilities to a supranational body, and even with all the desire in the world we cannot negotiate with the EU on issues that no longer fall within our national responsibility. These matters are now the responsibility of a supranational body.
But as our colleagues explained today, the European Commission does not yet have a mandate for conducting talks with this organisation. It has a mandate for holding negotiations with Russia. I think it should obtain the needed mandate however, because this situation today is such that the Common Economic Space’s supranational bodies also need to take part in our work together.
Jose Manuel Barroso: Regarding the visas, as I said before, we are seeing some progress there, we are now engaged in the implementation of the so-called common steps toward visa-free travel that were launched in the last summit, and there was progress made in negotiations on an upgraded EU-Russia Visa Waiver Agreement, which I hope will be finalised soon.
Our goal remains visa-free travel. As you know, there are still some technical issues that are important to fulfil. You mentioned those reports, yes, this was very serious work both by the Russian administration and the European Union administration. We have to check all this. But we are determined to make this happen, and I believe it is in the interest also of Europe. In fact, I can tell you that one of the important areas in which we are looking is tourism. There are many tourists from Russia going to the European Union, and certainly it is in our interest to have more tourists from Russia. In fact, there have been a lot more. Just some days ago, I was in the Baltic Summit where Russia was also represented by Vice Prime Minister Shuvalov, and all the prime ministers of the region were giving us figures about the increase of visits, it’s amazing. For instance, the number of Russians going to Finland, we are here very close to Finland in St Petersburg, because we now have systems that are already more flexible with multiple entries with the same visa.
But I agree, it is not enough. We should go further, and that’s what we are working on. It depends, of course on the political will of all the 27 member-states, but also on some technical matters that have to be addressed by the Russian authorities. And I hope that we will see progress in the not distant future in this area that I know is very important for Russian citizens – mainly young citizens, but not only. Also, it is very much in the interest of the European Union, as I have already stated.
Vladimir Putin: As you know, while doing construction work in one of St Petersburg’s buildings, workers recently discovered treasure that had been hidden by a family in 1917. They hid their treasures from the Bolsheviks and left the country. We collected the treasure and it is now in one of the rooms nearby.
I propose to our European colleagues, if you are interested, to come and take at least a few minutes to see it. This invitation extends to the press too. You are all welcome to come and take a look.