EU - Lithuania blocks EU deal on talks with Russia

30th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

European nations failed to convince Lithuania to allow the European Union to launch talks on a new partnership.

April 29, 2008 - European nations failed Tuesday to convince Lithuania to allow the European Union to launch talks on a new partnership pact with Russia.

   "There won't be a mandate" for the European Commission to launch talks for
updating a strategic partnership accord with Russia, the diplomat told AFP on
the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

   "More efforts are needed."

   Fresh EU-Russia negotiations are deemed key to improving relations, which
have soured under Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as assuring a
reliable energy supply from Russia and reviewing human rights.

   Any EU member state can block talks between the bloc and other countries.
   Lithuania is wrangling with Russia over a series of issues including energy
security, Russia's international obligations, its cooperation in legal affairs, and the resolution of frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, where Russia has strong ties with separatist movements.

   Vilnius wanted these issues included in the EU Commission's negotiating
mandate with Russia.

   The other EU members argue that the key frozen conflicts issue is already
among the objectives and that adding a new declaration to the negotiating
mandate would be superfluous.

   "We have offered something very much in line with the Lithuanian proposals
but still Lithuania is not completely satisfied," said a foreign ministry
spokesman from Slovenia, which holds the EU's rotating presidency.

   Lithuania upped the pressure this month after Russia announced closer ties
with the two breakaway regions, in response to a move by most EU nations to
recognise Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia.

   A Russian official has warned that conditions imposed by Lithuania could
complicate the long-delayed talks on the new EU-Russia deal.

   The EU and Russia hold summits and working group discussions each year but the bilateral accord is based on a deal reached in 1997 when Russia was still in convalescence following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

   The EU hopes the talks, which themselves are bound to be long and arduous,
can be launched at an EU-Russia summit in Siberia on June 26-27, when new
president Dmitry Medvedev will represent Russia for the first time.

   However, Lithuanian officials have rejected deadlines for the talks to

   "I don't want to put any timeframe on the talks or the objectives,"
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said.

   "What is important is ... the quality of the objectives and the quality of
the relations with Russia".

   After the talks ended, French Secretary of State for European Affairs,
Jean-Pierre Jouyet said "we hope that we will be able to approve this" ahead
of the next foreign ministers' meeting on May 26, shortly before France
assumes the rotating EU presidency.

   The Lithuanian foreign minister "will have to go back to his authorities to
see if they can find a formulation which would allow the mandate to be
approved," he said.

   It has already taken a long time for the EU to agree a mandate for the
talks with Russia.  

Poland put the brakes on for more than a year because of a trade spat with
Russia. However Warsaw indicated last month that it had no more objections to
the talks, leaving Lithuania as the only stumbling block.

   "It is an absurd situation which does nothing to serve our interests," an
European diplomat said, adding that Lithuania's inflexibility could have
something to do with legislative elections due there in October.


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