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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso at the Russia-European Union – Potential for Partnership conference: "Moving into a Partnership of Choice"

"Russia-European Union – Potential for Partnership" Conference/Moscow

21 March 2013

Prime Minister Medvedev,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all I want to thank and congratulate the Russian International Affairs Council and Igor Ivanov for organizing this conference at such a timely moment.

It is a pleasure and an honour to be here with such a distinguished audience. I recognise many friends, I cannot mention all of them, but some of them with whom I have been working very closely from Javier Solana to Wolfgang Schüssel to François Fillon, to Paavo Lipponen, to Franco Frattini, and some others I see in the audience. Some of you that have done so much over the years for the process of partnership and friendship between the European Union and Russia.

The world is indeed changing fast. I believe we should not take old partnerships for granted and we need to nurture all our partnerships.

For the strategic partnership between Europe and Russia this is a double challenge, because our relationship is simultaneously centuries old and very recent, with a fresh restart just a couple of decades ago. And some of the protagonists are here today. This relationship cannot be taken for granted and needs constant nurturing. It is a relation that needs to be thought, understood, recreated and I can think of no better place to think, understand and recreate this very important partnership than here in the Russian International Affairs Council in your company and of course in the company of Prime Minister Medvedev.

Let me start with a simple premise: there is no doubt that Russia and the European Union are deeply intertwined. We share a continent, a history, a rich and diverse cultural heritage forged throughout the centuries.

European and Russian intellectual and creative life from science to philosophy, from arts to music and literature have been enriching and influencing each other to the point of being one and the same.

Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov are part of the European collective memory. Mayakovsky and Malevich were influenced by and have influenced the European avant-garde movement. I also remember for instance the extraordinary correspondence between Rainer Maria Rilke, Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva, which is now common part of our shared literary history.

And on this very day we celebrate the birth of Modest Mussorgsky, 174 years ago. It is impossible to forget his strong influence on Debussy, Berg, Poulenc. His major work, Boris Godunov is an illustration of “our” cultural melting pot, with a skilful balance between Russian music identity and classical Western conventions, giving a new life to a story written by Pushkin and with inspiration of Shakespeare and Karamzin.

Even more importantly, these ties are not just history or culture; they are strongly entrenched in today’s life. They are alive in strong human bonds, in the hearts and minds of our people, in the warmth of many family unions, in the enthusiasm of young students, workers or tourists discovering each other's countries and ways of life; exchanging experiences, opening up to new perspectives.

And even in the years when the difference of political regimes and an iron curtain drove us apart, the voices of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, the music of Shostakovich and Stravinsky, the dance of Rudolf Nureyev, the cinema of Tarkovsky reminded us that what unites us is much, much deeper than what separated us.

In short, European history and civilization would be incomplete without Russia. Yes, Russia is a European country and Russian history and civilization cannot be dissociated from Europe and the cross fertilization that happened over the centuries.

But our close relationship is not just based on our long and solid bonds of history, culture and kinship, crucial though they are. Over the years and in particular after the developments in Russia in the 90s, there is a hard and sustained effort to build a wide-ranging partnership for the sake of greater prosperity, predictability and security for the European Union and Russia, and for the world and also for the region at large.

Economic bonds are often regarded, and rightly so, as one of the most important factors to bring people and nations together, to lay sound foundations for broader and strengthened relations and improve stability over-time. The European Union in itself is indeed a case in point!

And here, the European Union and Russia have a particularly impressive story to tell. Trade is really part of the heartbeat of our relationship. The European Union is by far Russia's biggest overall trade partner. And Russia is the European Union's third largest trade partner. In 2012 alone the total volume of trade between the European Union and Russia reached 336 billion euro and around 75 % of foreign direct investment in Russia is of European origin. In 2010 the European Union stock of foreign direct investment in Russia amounted to 120 billion euros. More than China and India combined!

And we should not forget either that the European Union is the first customer of the main Russian export: energy. 80% of all Russian oil exports; 70% of all Russian gas exports; 50% of all Russian coal exports go to the European Union.

This shows that history and kinship have been underpinned by a solid and structured relation that has a direct bearing in our people’s prosperity and well-being.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The case for European Union-Russia engagement is overwhelming. Clearly we have a strong interest in building upon our economic interdependence and working ever-closer together in so many areas from trade and investment to energy and mobility, to good governance, human rights, humanitarian and world security issues.

The core question is whether we are doing as much as we can to ensure that our partnership delivers on its full promise. I think the honest answer is: not yet. The fact is that we should work closer together not only because we have to, but also because we want to. Not just because we are condemned to be neighbours but because we have chosen to be partners.

In other words to realize the full potential of our relationship, we should add to our partnership of necessity a Partnership of Choice.

We already share a vision for such a Partnership, the long-term vision, and I think it is important, even when we take concrete decisions be it in daily life, in politics or business, to have a long-term vision. The long term vision is a common economic and human space from Lisbon to Vladivostok with free travel of people, free exchange of goods and services, very close overall cooperation. This is our long-term vision.

But I think all of us agree that this genuine common objective will remain somehow conceptual unless we define together how we get there. Certainly not in one go. The gap is too broad between short-term issues and long-term consensus. So to help bridge this gap, we ought to adjust our political ambition and focus on the midterm with a set of credible and realistic objectives that we can achieve in the years to come. And indeed the meeting that I am going to have later today, with President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev, and tomorrow, between the Commission and the Russian government, are part of this process.

A key first step in this mid-term agenda should be to agree on a proper institutional framework. A new EU-Russia Agreement is intended to fulfil that task. It would be highly symbolic if we could conclude the negotiations on it by next year when we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our Partnership and Cooperation Agreement of 1994. The PCA has served us well and has given a solid legal basis to our relations, being further elaborated in 2003 with the Four Common Spaces and the respective roadmaps.

But now the time has come for a modernized and upgraded agreement fit for a 21st century relationship and commensurate with our strategic partnership and having in mind this long-term vision.

An ambitious and comprehensive New Agreement, which includes a developed regulatory framework with common standards and norms, trade and energy provisions would help to create wider cooperative approaches with clear win-win situations.

It would also underpin our common objective of bringing our peoples even closer together in a visa-free travel regime.

Secondly, if we are serious about the deepening of our strategic partnership and establishing a partnership of choice, the sine qua non is certainly mutual trust. This entails that mutual commitments, be they bilateral or multilateral, have to be respected. A strategic relationship needs to be underpinned with strategic trust.

Both of us, Russia and the European Union, share global responsibilities as members of the G8, the G20 and the World Trade Organization. As you know the European Union, and the Commission directly, has fully supported Russia's accession to the WTO. We see it as a truly historic step.

We obviously understand that an important process of adaptation of internal rules is necessary for Russia to fully comply with WTO's commitments. But this should be about moving forward and not backward. This should be about applying the letter and the spirit of the commitments made and not about breaching them. This should be about a genuine and mutually beneficial level playing field. And in this regard the G20, currently under Russia's chairmanship, must certainly continue its fight against all forms of protectionism and in defence of open markets.

Both of us also have binding commitments as members of the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the OSCE: commitments to respect democracy and human rights, rule of law and freedom of expression and of assembly. The respect of these values is key for a solid and trusting relationship.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Winston Churchill, in a very quoted sentence once said that Russia is "a riddle, wrapped inside a mystery, inside an enigma". But what people know less is what he said following that sentence and he said that "there is a key to understand it and that key is Russian national interest". The Russian national interest is certainly for Russia to decide.

But if we look back in history we can see that the greatest moments of this great country and the great Russian history were when it opened up to the world, when it embraced Europe, when it successfully modernised.

Let's think of Peter the Great advised by the great German mathematician and philosopher Leibniz on the founding of an academy of science in Russia or Catherine the Great who corresponded with so many leading Western European intellectuals from Diderot to the English economist Arthur Young or the Swiss mathematician and physicist Leonhard Euler. Great moments of civilisation were the moments of interaction between Russia and Western Europe.

Modernisation still is a strategic objective of today’s Russia. And the European Union still is the first partner of choice in this process. I am therefore particularly glad to have launched, together with Dmitry Medvedev, in our 24th EU-Russia Summit some time ago, an important Partnership for Modernization, which was formalized the following year, 2010, at the Rostov Summit.

Since then we have made progress. Our regulatory frameworks are being approximated; Russian participation in EU research and development programmes has increased. 475 Russian research organisations are involved in more than 300 projects, receiving an EU contribution of 60 Million euros.

And the European Investment Bank has given a 200 million euro loan for the internationalisation of SME’s, to give just a few examples, I could add several more. With more trade and more investment also come new ideas and more innovation, leading to products and services that create jobs and economic growth. This means more opportunities for all of us to prosper together. We are indeed set to benefit significantly from a greater integration of trade, investment and technology exchange.

Today's world is driven by knowledge, innovation and technology. This is why we have declared 2014 as the EU-Russia Year of Science, Technology and Innovation and we have proposed to establish a European Union-Russia Strategic Partnership in Research and Innovation. This will be a very important step forward in the deepening of our relationship because research and innovation is much more than product development. It is about how our societies change and improve. It is about our capacity to adjust together to new economic and social realities and to create the future we aspire to.

It is about confronting together new challenges. And energy, a crucial field for both of us, is clearly one of these challenges.

At the core of the European Union’s energy policy are consumer choice, fairer prices, cleaner energy and security of supply. It is on this sound basis that we are developing our internal energy market. And we have moved a long way towards this aim over the last years.

This is an area where there is sometimes tension in our relationship. And I still feel that our objectives were probably not sufficiently explained or not fully understood by our Russian partners.

The reality is that within an open, interconnected and competitive EU energy market, Russian supplies will remain a very important component. A fully liberalized EU market will also mean more opportunities for more Russian suppliers. We have a common interest in keeping energy supplies and markets stable and in helping to promote competition and prevent monopolies. This is also part of the modernisation agenda that we are both engaged in.

But an effective economic modernisation process can only rely on talented, innovative and dedicated people. A thriving, sustainable economy goes hand in hand with a thriving society. This requires respect of the rule of law and ensuring citizens' rights, fighting corruption and developing a level playing field for companies. Moreover, sustainable economic prosperity and lasting social stability depend on the full implementation of such commitments. This is a question of well understood self-interest.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Russia is a continent disguised as a country, Russia is a civilization veiled as a nation. However, in today’s world even the biggest and the mightiest are not capable of addressing current challenges all alone. This is the biggest lesson to draw from the recent economic and financial crisis. And in Europe we are overcoming this crisis through a deepening of our regional integration project, through completing our Economic and Monetary Union and filling in the missing links of our internal market.

Russia has recently embarked on a regional integration project which is leading to the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union. As a regional integration project itself the European Union can only support regional integration elsewhere.

It is however important that these integration projects are constructed in a manner that enhances our bilateral relations instead of hampering them. That they serve the purpose of further opening up our countries to the rest of the world, instead of self-retrenchment. And that they are based on open regionalism instead of regional protectionism.

That is why it is crucial that we start working to make our respective projects compatible and convergent, in terms of principles, values and regulations. We have a wealth of expertise in this area that we can share with Russia and the Eurasian Commission, if we can be reassured on these principles.

In fact, our vision for the European continent is one of openness to all partners and to the world, cooperation based on common values and principles, free and integrated economies, and respect of the free will of the people.

It is on this vision that we have built our enlargement policy and our Eastern partnership. It is on this vision that we want to deepen our strategic partnership with Russia and other counties in the region. We have much to gain from it and our common neighbourhood can only benefit if there is collaboration between our approaches rather than competition.

We also need to continue aligning our positions on the most critical international matters. The constructiveness that guides already our joint work in the framework of the Iran talks, or in the Middle East Peace Process, should also allow us to converge our positions on Syria. I have said many times that the situation in Syria is a stain on the world’s conscience. The international community has a moral duty to address it.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Just a word on a matter that I know is of your interest: the Cyprus issue. I'm very concerned with the latest developments in Cyprus, namely because of the consequences for the citizens of Cyprus. Consequences that are the result of an unsustainable financial system that is basically eight times bigger than the GDP of that country - a system that certainly has to adapt. And as you know, there was not the possibility to implement the agreement reached unanimously in the Eurogroup between Cyprus and the other countries in the eurozone. The European Commission stands ready to assist finding an agreement, and in fact, as you know, consultations are going on between Cyprus and the other members of the Eurogroup to find a solution. We have in the past solved bigger problems; I hope that this time a solution can also be found.

I am also aware of the interests of Russia in this issue. And in fact we as European Commission have been in consultation with Russia for some time. I spoke about this issue with President Putin after the European Union-Russia Summit on 21 December in Brussels. The Commissioner responsible, Vice-President Rehn, in the Saint Petersburg G20, met the Finance Minister of Russia, and just on the 7 March there was a phone call conversation between the Commissioner and the Finance Minister of Russia.

Regarding the conclusions of the last Eurogroup, Russia was not informed because the governments of Europe were not informed - let's be completely open and honest about that issue. There was not a pre-decision before the Eurogroup meeting. The Eurogroup meeting concluded, I think, in the very early hours of Saturday and the decision was the result of a compromise between the countries in the Eurogroup. But of course here in Russia, today, I will be, of course, as always, open to listen to the concerns of our Russian partners.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My vision of world politics is not one of a zero sum game, but rather of a win-win approach. This should also apply to our relationship. I have tried to develop today very briefly the pillars and principles for what I think should be a partnership of choice between the European Union and Russia, founded on strategic trust.

This is certainly a long-term process. But Leo Tolstoy reminded us in his great work War and Peace, that "the two most important warriors are patience and time".

And in this same spirit I invite all our Russian partners in the government, in business and in civil society to dedicate their time to this outstanding great project of making the European Union-Russia relations a Partnership of Choice, a great partnership based also on the principles of friendship between the peoples of the European Union and the people of Russia.

I thank you for your attention.

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