The EU-Russia summit ended today (21 December) with no major decisions, but Russian President Vladimir Putin staged a show for the press, telling Commission President José Manuel Barroso that he was “not right” in his interpretation of energy liberalisation rules.
The otherwise lacklustre visit of Putin to Brussels will be remembered for a verbal duel at the press conference between Barroso, who thought he had the last word, and Putin, who caught him unawares.
The Russian President reacted to a long statement by Barroso, in which the head of the EU executive made the case that the Third energy package was not discriminatory against Russia.
Russia said it wanted the summit to agree rules for exempting its pipelines from the EU’s energy liberalisation rules, which grant energy companies access to infrastructure held by others.
“Our system is non-discriminatory, it applies not only to Russian companies, but to European companies, American companies, Norwegian companies, to companies from any parts of the world, and we believe, it is fully compatible with our overall agreements,” Barroso said.
The Commission President also referred to deals with Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom which tie the price for Russian gas to international oil prices, which have risen significantly in recent years.
“We have to understand what happens there. The problem is not indexation per se. Linking the price of gas to oil, is not in itself a problem. The problem is when this has a direct impact on the market, creating a dominant position for a company in our market or part of our market. This is a problem we don’t have with Norway and some companies in Russia,” Barroso said.
But when the press conference ended and Council President Herman Van Rompuy’s spokesperson wished journalists “Merry Christmas”, Putin made a late grab for the microphone.
“My friend from many years, Mr Barroso, has for so long and so emotionally spoken, because he knew that he is not right, he is guilty,” Putin said, amidst laughter from the sizeable Russian delegation. Turning to the press, he added: “Open article 34 of our basic treaty with the EU and read for yourselves.”
Article 34 of the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, in force since December 1997, reads: “The Parties shall use their best endeavours to avoid taking any measures or actions which render the conditions for the establishment and operation of each other's companies more restrictive than the situation existing on the day preceding the date of signature of the Agreement.”
Putin continued: “And one more observation: linking the price of gas to oil was invented not by Russia, but by the Netherlands in the beginning of last century."
"And it has applied throughout all these years without any problem. The price of oil establishes itself on world markets on an absolutely market basis, not by administrative means,” he added.
Other statements at the press conference suggested that Putin and his EU counterparts clashed on many issues, including human rights, trade, visas, and how to react to the situation in Syria.
Putin lashed out at the EU for its handling of the human rights of Russian citizens living within “some EU countries”, and accused the bloc of “Nazi glorification”. Russia has repeatedly singled out EU member states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the three Baltic former Soviet republics, in this regard.
Vladimir Putin triumphed in Russia's presidential election on 4 March, but his opponents refused to recognise the results and said they would press ahead with the biggest protests since he rose to power 12 years ago.
Putin was president from 2000 to 2008 and remained Russia's dominant leader. He stepped aside in 2008 to make way for his ally, Dmitry Medvedev, because he was barred from a third presidential term by the constitution.
Putin served as prime minister in the interim. The two swapped places again this year.
- European Council, the President: Press statement by President Herman Van Rompuy following the 30th EU-Russia Summit: