News Conference following Russia-EU Summit:
QUESTION: I have a question for the Russian president: just before the summit, Russian officials said, and you just repeated, that Russia would be ready to abolish reciprocal visa requirements with the European Union straight away, but from Brussels we are hearing that this is not going to happen anytime soon. I would like to know what is stopping visa-free travel from going ahead? What are the obstacles in the way and how can they be dealt with?
I have a second question regarding the future. You said that Russia’s accession to the WTO was discussed at the summit. Did your discussions reach an understanding on when this might actually happen? It would be interesting to hear the European leaders’ responses to these questions too.
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Thank you. I do not know if my colleagues will comment or not, but I will certainly share my thoughts since you addressed your first question to me.
On the subject of visas, or their abolition, to be more precise, and what obstacles are in the way, there are no obstacles in the way for us and we are ready to abolish them tomorrow. We think that our society is entirely prepared to receive Europeans without visas and manage all of the various aspects associated with such travel. We have the necessary technical procedures in place and are currently reorganizing the system, and we also have a series of agreements that we are continuing to develop, including agreements concerning the treatment and subsequent deportation of those who violate immigration laws. There is still some work to do in this area, it is true.
But I realize, of course, that our partners in the European Union are in a somewhat different situation. The EU comprises 27 different countries, each of which has its own views on the visa issue, including on the question of abolishing visas for the Russian Federation. This issue concerns not only Russia, because there are other countries with which the EU is also working towards eventual abolition of visas. Some of these countries, as I understand the situation, are closer to this goal than Russia. I think that the sooner the EU member states reach a consensus on this issue the better. We realize this is a complex issue for our European partners and we understand the need to perhaps clarify this or that position. The different EU member states have different views. I think these views in many respects owe more to our history than to the real situation today, because the way I see it, abolishing visa requirements would not pose any threat from a security point of view.
But countries have their own ideas about how to go about this, with which countries, and how rapidly. The different countries in the EU have different views on these matters. We are not letting this matter stress us because we consider it the EU’s internal matter to organize this work. But I would nonetheless like to say to our partners that if any steps are required on our side we are ready to work in bilateral fashion.
Finally, to facilitate this work and to at least start shaping the outlines of an agreement, I handed a draft agreement on abolishing reciprocal visa requirements between Russia and the EU to our partners during this summit. Let this become the first stone in the foundations of the decision on abolishing visas between us.
So, let’s continue our work. I am sure that this will be in the interests of millions of Europeans.
Now, on the WTO, we spoke about this yesterday during our informal discussions and we talked about it again today. The situation is quite straightforward and I think that my colleague, Mr Barroso, put it very well just now when he said that Russia needs the WTO, but the WTO also needs Russia, because the problems that our partners encounter, including our partners in Europe, and the rough edges that we discuss, the complaints sometimes made in Russia’s address, including on protectionism, are in large part related to the fact that we are operating under different rules. If Russia were in the WTO we would have to follow a certain set of rules whether we want to or not. But at the moment this is not the case.
As for our goal of joining this organization, I have said on many occasions that our desire to join the WTO has not changed at all, despite the fact that we are also building a full-fledged customs union and a common economic space with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Our desire remains unchanged because we support the idea of joining the WTO and think this is essential for our country to be able to develop as it should within the global economic space. Furthermore, our integration projects with Kazakhstan and Belarus change nothing with respect to our accession to the WTO because we agreed with our partners that we will join the organization together if we can, or separately if it turns out we are at different stages in the accession negotiations, and this is the case today. I am often asked about this issue, but in reality everything is quite simple and nothing has changed in our objectives.
Finally, who does the decision depend on today? The decision depends on the countries that still have to finalize their position on this issue. We talked about how to achieve this yesterday. We are still conducting complex negotiations with our American partners on this subject, but I think that it is time for everyone, including our American partners, to come clear on the issue: WTO membership is not a ‘carrot’ offered to us in return for good behavior, but is quite simply a necessity in order to make Russia a full-fledged and integral player in global economic life.
I could but will not name a number of countries that have already joined the WTO but, in terms of their involvement in global economic life and the degree of modernity of their trade rules are decades behind Russia. I will say only that it looks a little strange that Russia is the only country in the G20 not yet in the WTO. Does anyone gain from this situation?
I therefore hope that this summit has helped to consolidate our positions (on this issue we have practically no differences with our European partners), and I hope that the remaining difficulties will be resolved and we will soon be able to join the WTO.
QUESTION (translated back from Russian): I have a question on the flotilla that was heading for the Gaza Strip. I would like to know your personal reaction. The incident has been condemned around the world. Do you think the future will bring any change?
And I have a second question on human rights. You said that you discussed the human rights situation today. I would like to know in more detail what you discussed, the general situation or particular issues such as the Caucasus or others?
QUESTION (translated back from Russian): My first question is for President of the European Commission Mr Barroso. Yesterday you spoke about the euro crisis and the possible steps to take before the G20 summit, including new rules for regulating financial markets. Has a new strategy in this area actually been drafted in preparation for the G20 summit?
My second question is for President Medvedev. What can Russia do to help stabilize the global financial system?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I will continue on the issue of what Russia can do to help stabilize the global financial system and the markets in general. I know that the efforts of one country alone will not produce results. We realized this when faced with the crisis in 2008. No matter how hard we tried, not one country, not even the United States of America, could solve this problem for everyone. It just did not work. So, we decided to work together as the G20 and now we are about to hold our fourth summit. We already met in Washington, London and Pittsburgh, and now we will meet in Canada, in Toronto. What can we do to bring about stabilization? We need to work together, work hard on practical tasks and not whip up hysteria over the problems that arise in different parts of the world, including the problems that have arisen now in Europe. We need to try to help our partners and not make sharp statements that would only rock the boat of our economy and the EU’s economy even further. This is also something very important.
In passing, I want to say that the EU and its leaders deserve full praise for the swiftness with which they decided to accord money to help Greece resolve its problems and acted to address financial stability in general. Rapid decision-making in such cases is crucial for how the situation will develop further. Either we manage to nip the problem in the bud, or we end up having to manage the consequences for who knows how long afterwords, perhaps even decades. The swift and synchronized manner in which these decisions were made, despite some internal differences perhaps, show that the institutional system established by the Lisbon Treaty really does work effectively.
This is good for us too. We are not part of the EU, but we depend on the situation with the main reserve currencies. We are watching to see how the situation with the dollar develops, and we are watching the euro’s movements too. I remind you that we keep around 40 percent of our foreign currency reserves in euros. We have substantial reserves, and so we think that in this situation the best thing we can do is to help our partners, put together a joint strategy, including, in this case, a strategy for exiting the crisis, and work on the tasks at hand. We have enough such tasks to keep us busy. They include issues concerning audits, the question of ratings agencies, reaching a final settlement on distributing the quotas within the IMF and World Bank and cementing the changes in these organizations’ management systems, and quite simply issues regarding our participation in financing economic programs. I remind you that Russia, like the EU and individual European Union members, takes part in IMF program and takes on considerable financial commitments under these programs. So, if we all act responsibly towards our commitments we will succeed in resolving the problems currently facing the European and global economies.
QUESTION: My question is for the Russian President and the European Union President. At the last Russia-EU summit in Stockholm you announced the creation of the Partnership for Modernization. Then you talked about creating a program, then about possibly signing a memorandum, and today, you signed a joint statement saying that you will draft a collaboration plan. So, after all that, what is this Partnership for Modernization actually about? What specific shape will it take, and when will we actually see it?
DMITRY MEDVEDEV: The Partnership for Modernization is a new direction in our cooperation with the EU. As for when you will see the fruits of this cooperation – you can already see them now. We are working together on energy efficiency, on the ‘green’ economy, on resolving with the EU’s help all kinds of problems linked to inefficiencies in Russia’s technical regulations.
We have a whole number of European companies working in Russia, working on energy efficiency and helping Russia to make progress in this area, because we still have a very energy-intensive economy and we need to cut costs and reduce consumption. The Europeans have good experience in this area. We have decided to base our internal technical regulations not only on our internal rules but also on EU legislation. We will directly implement technical regulation legislation. If this is not a partnership then what is it? This is a partnership. But of course, we must not stop here. We must keep going and outline our next steps. Today we talked about working on satellite communications and navigation. I am referring here to the relevant joint programs between GLONASS and Galileo. We talked about continuing our cooperation on technical regulations, which is a very important area for Russia, on energy efficiency, which I mentioned, and on a number of other proposals that we discussed back in Stockholm.
Today we adopted a statement on this partnership. Today, we do indeed need to draft our work plan, but the main outlines of what we need to do, the main components of our future work are already clear, and we are in effect already working on these things today. The main thing now, therefore, is to coordinate this work and ensure it goes ahead according to plan. Our partners think that this work could be extended to cover some other areas as well. Let’s wait and see. Perhaps we will include some other fields too. The main thing is to obtain a positive effect and get practical results. I hope that today’s decision, today’s statement will help in this.
I think there is no need to prove just what relevance this subject has for Russia today. I was happy to hear what President Van Rompuy said yesterday about the European Union also needing modernization, in different areas, it is true. This is something we all need to work on. This Partnership for Modernization will benefit everyone taking part.
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