|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||19/10/95, Volume 1, Number 05|
WHEN Russian President Boris Yeltsin arrives in Paris this week he will be given full state honours, in stark contrast to the reception he received on his last official visit in 1991.
Yeltsin's standing has risen partly because French President Jacques Chirac holds him in higher esteem than François Mitterrand did - and partly because the EU is anxious to demonstrate the importance it attaches to its relations with Russia.
Top of the agenda at tomorrow's meeting (20 October) between Chirac and Yeltsin is, inevitably, the peace process in the former Yugoslavia. Both France and Russia are members of the five-nation Contact Group, which has virtually dictated allied strategy on the region and shares many of the same goals.
“Russia helps France to promote ideas that are dear to it,” said Elysée spokesman Jérome Peyrat, explaining that both Paris and Moscow want a unified Bosnia-Herzegovina and are keen to bring the Islamic Conference into the peace process.
Peyrat insists Russia has a “very important role to play in the peace process” - and not only because of its ability to act as a mediator with the Serbs.
The EU is increasingly stressing Russia's political importance and taking concrete steps to acknowledge it.
Nevertheless, foreign ministers are cautious about moving too far and too fast.
Earlier this year, the European Commission announced a new strategy for cooperation with Russia, despite the fact that Moscow was embroiled in war with the breakaway republic of Chechnya. There was speculation at the time that the EU, which had just signed a trade and cooperation accord with the Ukraine, had acted to soothe Russian fears that Kiev was being given priority over Moscow.
Others saw the announcement as a reward for Russia's help, or an enticement for future help, in using its influence with Serbia to cooperate with peace talks in former Yugoslavia.
Unveiling the strategy, Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek said: “A message should clearly be sent to Moscow that the EU is really trying to establish a real partnership.”
Van Den Broek insisted that Russia's nuclear power, economic and scientific potential and political weight meant “we simply can't turn our eyes away from Russia”.
Through a three-month-old interim accord to be complemented later by political cooperation programmes, the EU has given Russia a package of trade concessions.
It should boost Russia's exports to the Union, which last year amounted to 18.4 billion ecu and gave Russia a 6-billion-ecu trade surplus with the Union. The EU absorbs more than 40&percent; of Russia's foreign trade.
The two sides also agreed they would begin talks on an eventual free-trade zone in 1998. Preparations were to begin next year, but EU officials now say that this is unlikely. Van Den Broek's call to EU foreign ministers to look at the question when they meet on 30 October is likely to be met with requests for a postponement.
But even pledges to begin talking about a free-trade zone with Russia go further than the Union has gone with the US. That does not mean, however, that the road will be smooth. Even the interim accord was held up for months while France tried, and succeeded, to protect its enriched uranium from competition from Russian supplies of nuclear fuels.
European textile and steel workers see Russia's factories as direct threats to their jobs and there are fears that vast quantities of Russian commodities could threaten Europe's farmers.
Yeltsin's accusations of EU protectionism, especially in the areas of steel, textiles and nuclear fuels, are likely to be countered by EU manufacturers claiming that Russia is dumping goods at artificially low prices on their markets, by airlines complaining that Moscow taxes them for flying over the vast territory of Siberia, and by pharmaceutical firms maintaining that Russia allows US drugs into the country on more favourable terms than those given to products from Europe. “Accusations of protectionism and discrimination are not all one-sided,” said one Commission source.
Before a real trading partnership can be established, EU politicians will also want reassurance that Russia's economy is market-driven, as Moscow maintains, and not state-run.
EU officials say state subsidies are still too high for a normal market economy, but nonetheless support Russia's candidacy for membership in the World Trade Organisation.
For now, EU officials are concentrating on Russia's political power. Moscow hosted a meeting of the Contact Group this week (16-17 October) and is making its voice heard in opposition to NATO expansion into Eastern Europe. NATO leaders and European governments, sensitive to nationalist voices in Russia, have slowed down plans for the extension of the alliance.
One of the EU's top priorities for Russia, according to the Commission, is “the further involvement of the Russian Federation in the development of the European security architecture, the overriding aim being to avoid new divisions in Europe”.
But Russia's internal political problems continue to have repercussions on its relations with the Union.
Again EU officials are watching Chechnya with concern. Security and human rights conditions are being closely surveyed, a Commission official said, but added that so far there was “nothing that would cause a brake to be put on our relations”.
Yeltsin himself has recently adopted a more stridently nationalist tone and loudly criticised Europe on many fronts, economic and political, as well as on allied air strikes in former Yugoslavia and its plans to expand NATO.
But EU officials attribute the tone to campaigning in prepation for elections this December and June next year and are not overly-concerned.
“There is a different Yeltsin in his press conferences from his workmanlike approach in the meetings we have,” said one EU official recently.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia|