Press Conferences

6 february, 2009 17:30

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso held a joint news conference

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso held a joint news conference
"Russia is the EU's third-largest trading partner after the United States and China. We are the EU's fourth-largest supplier. During the past year, Russia imported more than 100 billion euros worth of goods from the EU. This is a significant amount in international economic relations, which is why our consultations are obviously important."
Vladimir Putin
Joint news conference with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso held a joint news conference after the talks between the Russian Government and the European Commission

Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen,

We'll give you a brief account of today's meeting.

The Russian Government and the European Commission have just ended their plenary meeting. We have not met in this format for three years, but there is nothing surprising about the fact that we met today. Such consultations are particularly urgent in the conditions of the global financial and economic crisis, because Russia and the European Union (EU) are important partners.

Russia is the EU's third-largest trading partner after the United States and China. We are the EU's fourth-largest supplier. During the past year, Russia imported more than 100 billion euros worth of goods from the EU. This is a significant amount in international economic relations, which is why our consultations are obviously important.

We have discussed a broad range of issues, such as the resumption of talks on the basic agreement and cooperation in individual industries - the energy sphere and other branches of the real economy. We spoke about the need to coordinate our actions at the macroeconomic level. Needless to say, we discussed humanitarian issues, including easier visa procedures. These questions were raised by both sides, because our European partners, particularly businessmen, are interested in simplified visa procedures and do not want to face administrative barriers in their daily work.

I'd like to thank Mr Barroso and all of our partners for the atmosphere of openness and trust created during these consultations. I am hopeful that we will keep the same spirit of cooperation with our European partners in the future, as well.
Thank you for your attention.

José Manuel Barroso (as translated): Let me start by thanking Prime Minister Putin, Government of Russia, for this very constructive meeting, very constructive atmosphere, and I repeat, very open discussions about many important issues. We also had an opportunity to meet President Medvedev.

This visit of the European Commission to Moscow takes place in the midst of the global economic crisis and that point in time when the continuing European Union - Russian relations are being tested on a number of fronts and our meetings today have allowed us to identify ways to strengthen effectiveness and dynamism of the European Union -Russian partnership. In fact we are deeply, inevitably interdependent. We should build our relations on the basis of this.

Russia is our third biggest trading partner after the US and China. We are the first investor in Russia. Russian energy supplies are essential to Europe, at the same time the Russian economy also benefits from our investments, our strong demand, our high technology for its modernisation.

We have to make this interdependence positive in the eyes of our citizens. And, frankly, I am not sure that we have achieved this yet in the European Union or in Russia.

We really need to make these relations be perceived as positive for both sides; we need to increase trust through reliability, credibility, predictability. That's why we need to engage much better and much more with each other and openly discuss all issues on the table both where we agree and where we disagree, or where we do not yet agree. Any mature political dialogue between partners, and we respect each other, we respect very much such an important country as Russia, provides for frank and open exchanges. It was in this spirit that I also raised at the meeting with President Medvedev our concerns about the recent events affecting the rule of law in Russia.

We need as I said greater reliability and predictability from these relationships, and today we have looked at the ways to develop both. This is why the negotiations for the new agreement are so important. Our aim here is to elaborate binding commitments that reflect our values, our interests, our common concerns in all areas of cooperation, and that are respected and implemented by both parties. The recent gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine shows that the new agreement should enshrine robust rules on energy security, and we are also looking at the same ideas put forward by Russia regarding a possible international agreement on energy security.

Over the last few years we have seen a steady growth in our trade relations expanding on average around 20% per year. Last year our trade has grown by 25% both ways - to €280 billion just in goods. It's really impressive and I think we should build on that.

In the middle of an economic and financial crisis the temptation to resort to unilateral protectionist measures is strong. But protectionism only leads to more protectionism and to poverty. At this time we should confirm our commitment to open trading regimes and look at how we could trade more with each other, and not less, because the financial and economic crisis hits us all, we must find global solutions together and I welcome Russia's commitment in the framework of G20 to carry out the reform and strengthen international financial architecture. In fact, this was a very important part of our exchanges today - how we could cooperate in the framework of the G20 process.

We believe that the World Trade Organisation offers a platform for a stronger and more reliable economic partnership between the European Union and Russia. We very much support Russia's WTO accession.

Climate change has also been highlighted as a priority by Russia. We should not forget that the Kyoto protocol came into force also thanks to Russia's decision to ratify it. We are very much looking forward to working closely with Russia having in mind a very important United Nation's conference at the end of this year in Copenhagen.

So, I really want to tell you it was indeed a very good meeting. This idea of a positive interdependence is very important, given we make a contribution to increase trust through reliability and predictability.

So, once again thank you very much for the positive atmosphere of this meeting.

Question: A question for Mr Barroso. The European Commission has repeatedly said that it is necessary to build additional pipelines to deliver Russian hydrocarbons to Europe to enhance the energy security of the EU countries. For example, 250 million euros have been earmarked for the Nabucco project. What is the European Commission going to do to support the two other projects, the South and Nord Streams, which are expressly aimed at supporting the energy security of the EU countries? And when will the approval of these projects cease to be merely verbal?

And while on the subject of energy security, a question to both panelists. Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement in January, and it was decided to leave monitors to keep track of the transit of Russian gas to Europe. Do you think such control and monitoring are still necessary?

José Manuel Barroso: First, regarding the pipelines. I never thought I would have to deal with gas matters so much; I have taken a crash course and learned a lot about gas and gas pipelines recently.

Our position is simple: we are for diversification. This is quite natural; it is simply a reasonable principle, and everyone seeks to diversify relations, trade, and investments. The European Commission also believes we need to diversify supplies, but we have never opposed either the South Stream or the Nord Stream.

In terms of capital investment, these are commercial projects. They have not asked for any government allocations or allocations from the European Union to fund these projects.

As for Nabucco, yes, requests have been made for assistance to speed up the construction of that gas pipeline and the question of financial support is under consideration.

We do not by any means oppose one pipeline versus another. I assure you that Russia will remain our important partner in terms of gas supply to Europe.

As for your second question, that is, whether we still need monitors and whether monitoring should continue - yes, if the parties think so and if Russia and Ukraine support the continued presence of monitors. It has been agreed that they will stay there for some time. If it contributes to greater trust and ensures uninterrupted supplies of gas to Europe, we agree with keeping them there, especially since we have exerted some effort to persuade the two sides to host these monitors. We consider the agreements reached to be very important and hope they will be honoured.

Vladimir Putin: I would like to make two remarks, both of a positive nature. First, both in our closed meeting and in full-scale negotiations, Mr Barroso confirmed that the European Commission is interested in the building of the Nord Stream and South Stream, which is already a big achievement.

Second, we have spoken out all along for creating a monitoring mechanism and would like it to continue at least until the end of the first quarter of this year.

I am pleased that Mr Barroso and his colleagues have responded positively. At the same time, we have noted that unfortunately, our representatives have still not been given access to the central dispatcher station in Kiev or to the underground gas storage facilities. Unfortunately, that provision has not yet been complied with.

Finally, a third point that is not related to your question: I have just learned that Mr Barroso has discussed the problems of building a rule-of-law state with President Medvedev. Mr Barroso discussed it at the Kremlin, but he has announced it here at this news conference where Mr.Medvedev is not present and cannot say anything on the issue. However, I know the Russian position well.

Russia is ready to discuss any issues and problems, including the whole range of issues connected with law and freedom. We hope that these problems will be discussed together. We are still not satisfied with the way the problems of the Russian-speaking minority in the Baltic states are being addressed. We are aware of the rights of migrants in European countries and how they are violated. We know the situation in some penitentiary systems in some European countries, and have similar problems. We think it is necessary to discuss the whole range of problems both in Russia and in the European Union countries to find common ways of solving them. So, I cannot speak on behalf of the President of the Russian Federation, but I ask Mr Barroso: please accept a return ball from the Government of the Russian Federation.

José Manauel Barroso: Thank you for giving me a chance to respond. I did not mention it because it was discussed in the conversation with Mr Medvedev. I can say that we had a very constructive talk on this topic. I simply shared with Mr Medvedev a certain concern in European public opinion in connection with the recent events in Russia, such as the murders of several journalists and human rights activists.

It was not by chance that I spoke about the maturity of our relations and a mature dialogue, because I am convinced that a mature dialogue implies the discussion of any, including delicate and sensitive, questions. In such a dialogue, the parties involved are ready to discuss and are ready to be criticized, just as we are ready to hear criticism of ourselves and our realities, because we too have problems and are not turning a blind eye to them. However, we believe that such issues as the rule-of-law state, the supremacy of the law, and human rights are more important than diplomacy between states, because these concern the people themselves, the actual position of people.

Vladimir Putin: Shall we continue the discussion or leave it there?

Question: How can the relations between the EU and the Russian Federation be improved after they were damaged by the events in Georgia and the gas conflict with Ukraine?

José Manuel Barroso: As I said, we are genuinely interested in establishing good and constructive relations with Russia. There are many reasons for that: our economies are very interdependent; Russia is a member of the European civilization like any other European country, so the rules are the same for everyone, both for the members of the European Union and for Russia, since we belong to the same civilization. Therefore, we are interested in deepening these relations on the basis of mutual respect.

It is true that the events in Georgia and the Ukrainian gas crisis have not improved our relations and have brought some doubts to the minds of West Europeans. That is why we have come here - not to look to the past, but to see what we can do to develop our relations in the future. That is also why I have brought nine members of the Commission with me, so as to establish good relations. And for that purpose, as I have said, we are ready to discuss sensitive issues.

I think we have already attained a mature level of relations. We may not always agree on some issues, but we are discussing a wide range of them. They include energy security (we focused on these issues this time around), trade relations, and economic relations, especially in the crisis period, including in the G20, where we will also cooperate.

We are considering the Russian proposal on concluding an international energy security agreement. As Mr Putin has said, some progress, in fact, significant progress has been achieved on the issue of gas pipelines and the system of monitoring compliance with the agreement. So, progress has already been made and we look forward to further progress, including in the talks on a new framework agreement. This will demonstrate to the citizens of our countries that they will gain from it in terms of economics, security, and cultural exchanges. It would be in everyone's interest.

Question: My second question is directed to the Russian Prime Minister. Mr Putin, at the height of the gas tensions, there was a lot of talk about guarantees that such a thing would not happen again. Where are these guarantees and why, after all that happened, should Europe trust Russia?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, I cannot ignore the first part of your question, so I will try to answer your questions in one go.

You may find it odd, but we began our discussion today in very much the same vein as you have phrased your question. We have seen some dramatic, sad, and crisis-level events taking place recently. What next? How do we assess them? And how shall we move forward?

In connection with this, I would like to draw your attention to what seems to me to be the key sentence uttered by Mr President. He said that we are people of the same civilization and we should live according to the same rules. The rules must be the same for everyone. That is the key sentence. If we in Europe made a certain decision regarding Kosovo, we must behave similarly in other parts of the world. Or if we behave a certain way in other parts of the world, we should act in the same way in Europe. The rules should be the same for everyone - that is extremely important. If a minority group in one place has the right to be independent, why is another ethnic group denied such a right elsewhere in Europe?

The same holds true for energy. Let us work out uniform rules that everyone will obey. That is why President Medvedev has proposed either signing a new energy charter or reworking the present one - it does not matter, the main thing is that it should meet the common interests and be uniformly accepted and complied with by all parties involved in the process.

We are ready to seek compromises and meet our partners halfway, because we understand and respect their interests. However, we demand a similar attitude to Russia. I was pleased to note that President Barroso is going along with this approach, and I agree with him that we should look toward the future. We will be happy to host the European Union's "magnificent ten" as often as possible.

Thank you very much.