Member states should refrain from bilateral dealings with Russia

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The rejection of the EU-Russia Summit should not encourage member states towards having bilateral dealings with Russia, writes Urmas Paet. [EPA/EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The rejection of the EU-Russia Summit should not encourage member states towards having bilateral dealings with Russia, writes Urmas Paet.

Urmas Paet is an Estonian member of the European Parliament (Renew Europe) and vice-chair of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee (AFET).

The leaders of the EU member states have agreed not to hold an EU-Russia Summit for the time being and, due to the strained EU-Russia relations, this was the right decision. However, the rejection of the Summit should not encourage individual member states to start having bilateral dialogues with Russia.

Instead, the EU must keep a unified stance.

At the European Council meeting, the EU leaders reiterated their commitment to the five guiding principles that were agreed on after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Russia must fully assume its responsibility in ensuring the full implementation of the Minsk agreements as the key condition for any substantial developments in the EU-Russia relations.

One of the five guiding principles is selective engagement with Russia. It is up to the future European Council meetings to explore the formats and conditionalities of such dialogue.

The EU leaders also acknowledged the aspirations of the Eastern Partnership countries. This is important and should be done more regularly.

To sum up the European Council meeting, it can be said that the proposal by France and Germany to restore the format of the EU-Russia Summit was thoroughly discussed. As it should be.

However, in the current state of EU-Russia relations, the Summit will not bring added value.

The strained ties between EU and Russia are caused by Russia’s violations of international law and human rights. It is clear that Russia already knows the EU’s stance that we cannot and will not tolerate such violations, may it be against Ukraine, Georgia or the Russian opposition leaders.

Even though the EU-Russia Summit format has been frozen for some years already, this has not stopped individual member states of having bilateral meetings with Russia.

However, as the EU’s goal is to have a common and unified policy, such bilateral meetings are counterproductive, as these member states do not represent the EU’s common position. It is crucial that the EU remains unified in its stance towards Russia.

In addition, we should not overlook the deepening relations of two authoritarian states – Russia and China – as this also influences Europe.

The EU must remain critical towards its future plans in organising a Summit with Russia. After all, timing is everything. For instance, High Representative Josep Borrell’s recent visit to Russia clearly happened at a bad time.

In conclusion, it is crucial that the European Council’s position will not encourage individual member states to organise bilateral meetings with Russia, especially as it remains unclear when the timing is right for the next EU-Russia Summit.

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