Visa-Free Travel Is Our Common Goal

Text of report by the website of heavyweight liberal Russian newspaper Kommersant on 1 June

[Interview with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, conducted by Olga Golovanova: "Visa-Free Travel Is Our Common Goal. European Council Chairman on Moscow-Brussels Relations." Place and date not given.]

On the eve of the summit in St Petersburg, European Council Chairman Herman Van Rompuy told about relations between Russia and the EU in an interview with Interfax observer Olga Golovanova -especially for Kommersant.

[Correspondent] What are you expecting from the Russia-EU Summit?

[Van Rompuy] The main goal is to confirm the results achieved in recent years within the scope of our partnership, and to define the course for the future. It is necessary to discuss pressing questions, such as the struggle with the economic and financial crisis, the violence in Syria, and Iran’s nuclear programme. I hope that we will be able to confirm the common task -a deeper strategic partnership between the EU and Russia. As in previous summits, the questions of human rights and supremacy of the law will be on the agenda.

[Correspondent] The summit will take place on the background of the crisis in the euro zone. When, in your opinion, will Europe be able to achieve financial and economic stability? Will the summit participants discuss the crisis?

[Von Rompuy] The euro zone participants have adopted a set of measures aimed at promoting growth and creating new jobs and financial stability. We will increase competitiveness with the aid of structural reforms and target investments, and will ensure financial stability using serious state means. But obviously, this is a lengthy process.

[Correspondent] When will the EU and Russia be able to conclude negotiations on a new agreement on partnership and cooperation? May the EU agree to a compromise with Moscow, or will it insist on certain principles that go beyond the scope of the Russian Federation’s obligations as a member of the WTO?

[Van Rompuy] On the whole, significant progress has been achieved, with the exception of that part of the negotiations, where the discussion centres around trade and investments, including in the energy sphere. Considering our strong relations in the sphere of trade, it would be logical to include trade aspects in the document. In recent years, the process has proceeded slowly. But Russia’s accession to the WTO, as we believe, will give our relations a new dynamic.

[Correspondent] When will the EU and Russia be able to conclude an agreement on visa-free travel?

[Von Rompuy] Allow me to clarify this question. Visa-free travel is our common goal. But we must create the necessary conditions. Let us concentrate our work on creating these conditions, and not on discussing the times and dates. At the EU-Russia summit in Brussels in December of 2011, we coordinated the "Joint Steps Towards Introduction of Visa-Free Travel." This is a list actions, which the EU and Russia have promised to implement. The main directions are the reliability of documents, the struggle with unlawful migration, public order, security and judicial cooperation, as well as foreign ties, including human rights. Evidently, this work will require some time. But I would like to add: We are already very close to agreement on continued easing of our visa procedures. Last year, Russians were issued 5.6 million Schengen visas, and of those almost half were multi-entry visas. And soon, we will be able to make visa procedures much simpler for many ordinary Russians and Europeans who wish to travel.

[Correspondent] Is the EU planning to ease or, on the contrary, tighten the sanctions against Syria and Iran?

[Van Rompuy] On Syria, it is necessary to put an end to the violence against the civilian population. The EU will continue to introduce restrictive measures as long as the repressions continue. Ordinary people in Syria are suffering from violence today, and not from sanctions, whose task is to change this situation.

As for Iran, we are striving to remove the concern regarding its nuclear programme by peaceful means, through negotiations. The goal of the sanctions is to return Tehran to the negotiating table, and not to provoke a change of regime. The continuation, re moval or easing of the sanctions will depend on Iran’s actions. We are awaiting specific practical steps from it in response to the concern of the international community.

[Correspondent] Will the EU boycott the Euro-2012 matches, which will be held in Ukraine, because of the situation surrounding Yuliya Tymoshenko?

[Van Rompuy] The question of a boycott of the championship on the part of the EU has not been raised. We are interested in seeing to it that the championship goes successfully. However, I am very disappointed in the recent examples of politically motivated judicial proceedings in Ukraine, of which the Tymoshenko case is not the only example. The EU is interested in developing relations with Ukraine. We have held negotiations on an agreement on association, including a free trade zone. Perhaps this is the most complex and comprehensive agreement which we have ever prepared with a third country. But at the same time, the EU and I have sent Kiev a clear signal: We will not be prepared to sign this document until we become convinced that Ukraine is interested in development of closer political relations. And this presupposes a respect for the EU’s main values, such as supremacy of the law.

Source: Kommersant website, Moscow, in Russian 1 Jun 12

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