Interview with Olga Potyomkina

Olga Potyomkina, an analyst from the Institute of Europe, shared with Russia Today her thoughts on the recently held Russia-EU summit.

Russia Today: During the talks both Russian and EU leaders stressed the need for a new partnership and co-operation agreement. But the dispute with Poland needs to be resolved first. How do you see this situation developing?

Olga Potyomkina: Actually, the ban on Polish meat is just a technical problem. As soon as all sides, I mean Poland, Russia and the EU, demonstrate their political will, this issue could be settled very quickly. But remember that another Polish requirement was that Russia ratified the treaty for the energy charter, and Russia cannot do it. Besides, there are 27 member states, each state might put forward its own claims. In this case the talks will never start. So, this is a great problem, for the EU inability to speak in a single voice in external policy.

RT: How can the differences existing between Russia and individual EU members hamper the relations of Moscow and Brussels? Can those rifts have a negative effect on the EU itself?

O.P.: Several new member states managed to impose their negative attitude, which was characterised for their bilateral relations with Russia, on the entire EU, not vice verse. This is surely a regrettable fact. This is, again, a great internal problem of the EU, not only Russia's one, as it is obvious that the EU needs an institutional reform, because now common foreign security policy of the EU does not work properly.

I suppose, solidarity and bilateral relations are coming into a clash. They might hamper the development of relations of the EU not only with Russia but with the whole world. The member states cannot come to an agreement.

RT: How crucial is the signing of the partnership and co-operation agreement for Russia and the EU? Can the two partners co-operate in the spheres outlined in the document without  it being signed?

O.P.: There is no tragedy, because there will be no legal vacuum. The old partnership and co-operation agreement will be prolonged, and it could be prolonged every year. But surely the new level of relations is necessary. Both sides acknowledge this fact. So, if both the partners want to be strategic partners, they need time to come to an agreement on the substance of the new treaty, on how they see the main aims of the treaty. Even if talks start, coming to an agreement will take more time that it was expected.

RT: How successful was the summit overall?

O.P.: Though there are no breaking news from the summit, no outstanding ideas and decisions. The sides just fixed a few results, but they are rather significant and discussed several controversial issues. Some of them were postponed. But the fact that they met and talked openly, as they stressed at the press-conference, should be welcomed.

RT: But the leaders began the press-conference by stressing the positives in the relations between Russia and the EU.

O.P.: The leaders should stress their positive achievements, and surely they should discuss the negative issues of the agenda as well. But regrettably, now we are facing not the best times in Russia-EU relations because negative points prevail in the agenda. But there is a need to work.

Earlier Olga Potemkina joined Russia Today to express her views about the ratification by the Russian Parliament of the agreements on visa procedures and re-admission with the EU and the possibility of the visa-free regime with Europe.

Russia Today: This move is long overdue – why has it taken so long to even take these first steps to make visa rules simpler?

Olga Potyomkina: As for the visa facilitation agreement as such I have never heard about any disagreements or controversial views while discussing it but let's not forget that this agreement comes in a package with a readmission agreement. And this is quite another thing. Russia takes a heavier responsibility for all the illegal immigrants who enter the EU from Russia. So there were many controversial discussions and it was not easy to take such a decision. Controversies were overcome before the summit in Sochi where both agreements were signed. It took time.

R.T.: Are you saying it was on both sides those obstacles or it was the EU worried over Russian immigrants flooding into Europe?

O.P.: Russia tried to insist upon just taking only Russian citizens back. But the final decision was that Russia would take all transit immigrants which come from the southern countries using Russia as a transit state. Russia will take them back in three years after the agreement comes into force.

R.T.: So you're saying that was the breakthrough that lead to this agreement to make the rules simpler? 

O.P.: Yes, because without the readmission agreement there was no possibility of simplifying visa rules for both Russian citizens and those of the European Union.

R.T.: Now take us through the bureaucratic side of things. How exactly are the rules are going to be made simpler?

O.P.: There are three factors. First: Russian citizens will not pay 70 euros for the visa and this is very good news, the price will not be increased. Second: we expect less bureaucracy and less time – up to 10 days.

R.T.: And how long does it take now?

O.P.: Sometimes it can take a month or more and then the most important thing: there are certain categories of Russian citizens and citizens of the EU countries who will benefit from the multi-visa – up to 5 years. They are students, journalists, businessmen, those who have relatives and those who are going to visit graves. So there are specific categories but not, of course, all the citizens.

R.T.: And what about on the European Union's side because it is also very obvious task getting a visa, you know, to get into Russia, I know people who have come out to see me – it has taken about 6 weeks to get a visa. So how are things going to change for them?

O.P.: This is absolutely the same, the agreements are identical for both parties.

R.T.: Can we assume that generally this is designed to help relations between Russia and the EU in a wider political sense or simply just to help the citizens?

O.P.: Yes of course because this is the important step towards our strategic goal – a visa-free regime. Besides, this is one of the few results, practical results, of the co-operation between Russia and the European Union, we can't see any other. But I think this is a gift from Russian side to the European Union because it is rather asymmetrical: Russia takes very heavy responsibility for illegal immigrants so I think this is some kind of a payment in advance for the rather obscure perspective of the visa-free regime.