Basescu: Russia is EU's most important, yet most demanding neighbour

Publish date: 27-05-2009
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"Russia is the largest, most important neighbour of the European Union, but also the most demanding, the list of differences being a rather long one," President Traian Basescu said yesterday, in his opening speech at the EU-Russia Economic Forum in Bucharest. The president underlined that Russia is the EU's third largest trade partner and that the main Russian exports are gas and oil. Bilateral cooperation is structured in four main chapters that contain economic and environment issues, international security, research and education and internal affairs and justice, he added.

The EU-Russia Forum, which ends today, was organized by the Institute of East European Studies of Poland, in collaboration with the Romanian Presidential Administration's National Security Department. The event was attended by over 250 officials, politicians, business environment and civil society representatives from 32 European, North-American and Asian countries.

Basescu emphasized that there are two levels of international cooperation between the 27-nation bloc and Russia and that the two sides have a fruitful collaboration and generally agree on issues related to the first level, such as Iran, the Mideast peace process, nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, terrorism or drug trafficking.

"The great problems in cooperation with Russia can be found on the second level, which regards the common vicinity of Eastern Europe and the Black Sea. This is where we find irreconcilable issues, such as Russia's unilateral recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence," he said.

Other issues that the two sides differ on are represented by parallel energetic projects and Moscow's reserves about the Black Sea cooperation and more recently, the Eastern Partnership, Basescu explained.

In the context, the president voiced his opinion that the EU must continue to try convincing Russia to cooperate and get involved in joint projects, but warned that this will have as background a lack of confidence. "Russia's massive military attack on Georgia in 2008 and the gas crisis at the beginning of this year shattered confidence in Moscow's transparency and intentions."

Thus, Basescu said, the EU must accept Russia as it is and demand instead a minimum amount of economic efficiency and predictability. "The global crisis is pushing the EU and Russia towards collaboration and proves that both sides are actually inter-dependent. But we need, as I said, a greater predictability and transparency," the president said. He also called on EU and Russia to build "spheres of confidence" instead of "spheres of influence", so as to offer both sides all necessary security guarantees.

The president moved on to say that the Black Sea should not be a reason for disputes between the EU and Russia, but a "uniting destiny." "The Black Sea must not be a border between the democratic, prosperous area of the European continent and the others. (…) The EU and Russia must work together to find the balance and vision of creating a stable, prosperous vicinity," he said.

As for Romania's role, Basescu said "Romanians will remain good Europeans and meet the engagements assumed when we joined the Union and the obligations we have as regards joint foreign policies and security." Romania will continue to act as a good neighbour, insisting on guarantees for the independence and integrity of all countries in the area," he said, underlining that the problem of regional frozen conflicts must be solved.

In the end of his speech, Basescu voiced hope that the forum would contribute to the construction of a solid partnership with Russia. "We can enjoy this peace and economic development together, both Europe and Russia, but for this, we have to discuss first the things that separate us, to reconstruct trust and assume the obligations we have," the president said.

Similar positions were voiced by other speakers in the forum. Basescu's national security adviser, Iulian Fota, said that the EU and Russia need to sign a partnership and set aside differences. Chamber of Deputies' Speaker Roberta Anastase also said that the lack of cooperation between EU and Russia is even more emphasized by the economic crisis, while Senate Deputy Speaker Anca Boagiu said ties between the two partners should rely on mutual respect, honesty and a common wish to strengthen collaboration.

Nine O'Clock

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