Question: Mr President, I would like to ask a question about Russia’s relations with the European Union. What are the main aims of the forthcoming talks on a new agreement?
And another question: you set the goal of having 50–70 percent of Russia’s population belonging to the middle class by 2020. Do you think the European Union could provide any help in achieving this goal? Developing a large middle class goes hand in hand with building a civil society and removing borders. What can you personally do to help expand direct interpersonal contacts between Russians and Europeans?
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I can tell you that I am ready to do everything within my power to expand these kinds of contacts. Our discussions today also pursue this objective. As for our goals, we want of course to have stable, full-fledged sustainable relations with the European Union and with Germany. As someone with a legal background I can but repeat that I do not think this will be possible without a dependable legal foundation to support it. Yes, of course, we will have dealings with each other no matter what happens, for we live alongside each other and share a common European home, the same historic values and face the same problems, but it is very important to give our relations a solid legal foundation and we consider it very important to start work now on a new cooperation and partnership agreement with the European Union. I hope that we will reach final approval on the framework for this agreement very soon, including during the summit that will take place in Khanty-Mansiisk.
As far as our country’s development is concerned, I have said in the past and repeat again now that I see no prospects for Russia’s development without the formation of a strong middle class. Yes, we have some very big companies, many of which are well-known now here in Germany too, because they have become real and significant players in the European and world economies. But these companies, even though they have a great influence on the economic system, do not embrace a large share of the population. We can improve people’s lives and raise living standards only by getting people involved in business, giving them the opportunities to start their own business and revive the entrepreneurial spirit that was so regrettably persecuted over long decades. This is a very important and truly ambitious goal.
But we have to do everything we can to help prepare our people for engaging in business. Ultimately, we have to create the conditions that will enable a decent share of the Russian Federation’s population to join the ranks of the middle class.
As far as general humanitarian contacts go, we clearly need to encourage exchanges at the level of civil society and not just pursue dialogue between the elites. We already know from past experience that the elites can meet, argue until they’re hoarse, embrace each other, but nothing changes as a result. We need to weave an ever broader spectrum of our respective societies into the fabric of our relations and develop regular contacts. This is something I talked about earlier with the Federal President. Young people need to be able to meet, to communicate face-to-face and via the Internet, go to football games together – all of this is part of the common humanitarian space. If we can create this kind of space our relations will be assured of a bright future indeed.
Question: I am the scientific and education coordinator for the Petersburg Dialogue forum and deputy secretary general of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Mr President, when Mr Steinmeier [German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier] visited Moscow you discussed the idea of partnership in modernization work, especially in the area of healthcare. In a speech at the Russian Federation Government Academy of the National Economy before you became President, you spoke about demographic development and mentioned this idea of partnership. Today you have spoken once again about the importance of laws. My question is, can we expect your support to draw up a concrete cooperation concept, including on exchanges, by the time of Petersburg Dialogue forum in the autumn this year (a specific date has not been named yet) so that we can we achieve rapid and concrete results?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. This is a very good subject. Some time back I did indeed start working on a demographic project for our country. This is a completely unique and absolutely essential project for us, and I think for you too. Many of the challenges European civilisation is confronting today are one and the same for all of us. The population decline that for a number of objective reasons is taking place in our country is also a problem facing other countries, other European countries. Right from the outset we needed to put in place a system of incentives for the demographic situation to change, motivating people so that they will want to start families and have children.
This is a very complex matter. We realise that money does not always produce results, especially in cases when living standards are already quite high. Living standards in Russia are not yet as high as in Germany. We have therefore decided to make use of a number of different ideas to encourage families to have more children and have developed in particular the idea of the maternity capital.
The maternity capital is a grant that a woman receives if she gives birth to a second or subsequent child. By Russian standards this grant represents a decent sum of money – 8,000–8,500 euros. It can be spent on education, be put towards one’s pension or for housing.
Of course this does not solve all the problems we face, but I am talking about this because these are issues we need to address. In this area you already have valuable experience of implementing a number of demographic programmes.
There are a number of technological areas in which we are already working together, on the national project to modernise our country’s healthcare sector, for example. We have decided to set up 15 completely new high-technology medical centres in our country. This is a very important step for Russia. The module units used to make up these high-tech centres will come primarily from German companies. We chose German companies because of the good quality standards and competitive prices they offer. This also represents direct development of our relations and new opportunities for working together in areas such as demography. We also have a number of other projects. My colleague, Mr Steinmeier, and I have indeed discussed these matters on a number of occasions. I think that the conditions and the grounds are all in place for moving ahead with this project, including through the Petersburg Dialogue forum, which, as you rightly noted, will take place this autumn, and through the intergovernmental consultations that will take place. We agreed today that these consultations will take place in late September-early October.
Question: Mr President, I represent Deutsche Bahn, one of Germany’s biggest transport and logistics companies. We work closely with Russian Railways. We have a whole number of joint projects that are developing very fast. Of course we want relations between our two countries to continue to grow. As a logistics company we are also involved in this process. What are you doing personally and what is your government doing on WTO accession?
Dmitry Medvedev: Russia’s accession to the WTO is not about following the fashion but is a step we must take. We have spent much time and effort on this and have relied to a large extent on the support of our European colleagues, including those working here in Germany. I hope that this process will soon be completed. I have said on past occasions that we do not seek WTO membership at any price. For all our respect for this international institution it is a means of achieving our aims and not an aim into itself. But it is a means that we must have at our disposal in order to be able to speak a common language and put ourselves on a level playing field with our partners. This is never a simple process because there are sectors that usually suffer as a result of joining the WTO. We have to do all we can to soften the impact accession will have on some sectors of our industry and on our agriculture sector. But this is nevertheless a step we must take. No one has changed this policy and no one is about to. We want accession to the WTO to go ahead on decent and honourable terms and to open up new horizons for our country. This is the direction in which we will work.
Question: Mr President, you spoke about freedom of speech. How do you plan to make it reality? How will you make Russian television more independent from the state? What can you as President do to help ensure that the murders of several journalists are finally solved?
Another question: the fortieth anniversary of the Prague Spring is coming up. What does this date mean for someone of your generation? Can Russia take part of the responsibility for those events today?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.
Regarding television’s independence, I think that television should be an independent institution within civil society. It should be an institution that is both independent and at the same time responsible before the country and before the people that receive its products. Television can be in state hands and in private hands, but it needs to be truthful.
Television can be funded by advertising revenue or it can be publicly funded, that is, funded by donations made by citizens. I think that we could develop all of these different types of television broadcasting. But it was not by chance that I referred to the technological revolution that is now entering every home.
I talked about this with Ms Merkel today. I am absolutely sure that in five years time there will be practically no difference between computers and television sets. All countries, Russia and Germany included, will be confronted first and foremost not so much with television company regulation and licensing issues, taxation issues, and even less so ownership issues, but with the content issue, the question of what is broadcast in the global media space and how.
At the same time, we need to understand that humankind has not yet found the answers to a number of challenges that confront us in this area. To explain what I mean, as you know, over the last century the world has developed an extensive system of rules regulating copyright. This system is built on a number of international conventions. But the emergence of a global environment for television broadcasting and information and communications technology in general will see the end of this system. We have to work out how the world is going to settle these issues, not to mention the need to address more conventional issues such as security and morality. I think these are all things we need to work on together.
As for media development in Russia, our media is maturing and, as I have said, the television channels we have today have come a long way since the early 1990s. Today we have more mature, more developed television. This applies to both the state and private channels. In this sense I am sure that everything will continue to develop without problems.
You have raised some sad issues. It is true, unfortunately, that our country has seen some serious events, including the deaths of journalists. Of course, such things happen not only in our country, but I do not intend to discuss other countries’ problems. Each leader answers for their own actions. What I can say is this: the cases of criminal attacks on the life and health of journalists in our country will be investigated in full, no matter how long it takes. This is our duty, the state’s duty, and we will fulfil this obligation. We will do this.
Finally, you also mentioned sad events and anniversaries. There are many such dates in the history of relations between countries. I do not think it would be right to emphasise any one event in particular. Our relations have known deeply troubled times and times of real and authentic friendship. I think that we do need to remember all the tragic events of the past and not cast doubt on their historical truth. And I think too that we should also remember the best moments in our relations.
But history is cunning. It is made up of both the good and the bad. We need to remember the past in full and we also need to think about the future. I think that we do need to take the individual events in history and come up with ways of telling their story to the generations of today, without trying to hide anything, so that these events will fix themselves in the memories of new generations of Russian and German citizens as lessons for the future. But this, colleagues, is something we need to work on together.
Question: Mr President, since the early 1990s we have had several thousand employees in your country producing construction materials. We have been very happy over this whole time. Of course, Russia has undergone rapid economic growth over the last eight years. Our business has done well. This year we will once again invest many millions of euros. I often visit Russia and I read in the newspapers that Russia’s primary budget surplus comes to around 50 billion euros. I think it could be a good idea to expand lending programmes for small and medium businesses in Russia, expand lending precisely to the businesses that, in the long term, will employ the most people. There must be financing for small businesses. This requires banks. Sberbank has many branches that can work throughout the country. I think that the current budget surplus could be used to finance this work.
Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Knauf, you are absolutely right. You have indeed been working successfully in Russia for many years now. Your company’s name is one of the first I learned back when I was working in St Petersburg. You have achieved a great deal over this time and I think that both you yourself and Russia have benefited. We hope that you will continue this work.
As for small business, you are right here too, right in saying that we need to develop micro-credit programmes. Big companies can obtain credits even at a time of global financial crisis such as that in which the world finds itself today. But in the case of small businesses, even a slight rise in inflation and, correspondingly, in interest rates, makes it hard for them to borrow. The state’s job is to provide them with more or less smooth conditions for obtaining loans. In some cases (and this is something we are already doing and will continue to do) this even involves subsidising interest rates simply in order to help businesses survive. I worked in particular on a lending programme for our agriculture sector, which not so long ago was in a very sorry state. There is huge demand for credit resources in the sector. What pleased me more than anything was to see that after a while, people in the rural areas, people who do not perhaps always understand all the intricacies of the market economy, have started consciously and seriously taking out loans. They are not doing so with the attitude that ‘the state will sort out’ whatever happens later, but are calculating revenue, returns, working out the conditions under which they will be able to repay these loans. This signifies that a revolution is taking place in people’s minds, and this is very important. The state simply must make use of this opportunity and help keep this new interest for business alive. As for the significance of small business, this is something we have already discussed today.
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If you permit, I would like to say a couple more words before we part today. Thank you very much for coming and listening to my speech so attentively. This sends out one clear message in my view, and that is that Russian-German relations have a very bright future before them. I can see that you are interested, that you have various questions and are not indifferent to the way the fabric of our ties is being woven. The fact that business leaders, civic leaders, civil servants and members of parliament have all come here today makes me optimistic that we will achieve our greatest goal – that of developing full-fledged public dialogue, listening to each other and working together on joint economic and social projects. This is all within our reach. I want to say once again that we have special strategic relations and that we share a special history, and I am sure that a brilliant future awaits Russian-German relations.
Thank you very much.