Kremlin perceives EU's expansion as key aspect of Russia-EU summit

The Kremlin perceives the European Union's expansion and the consequences of such expansion for the entire European system, for Russia's interests and its diverse ties with prospective EU members and the entire EU as a key issue. The Russia-EU summit must attach priority to this issue and some other key issues, as well. This was disclosed to RIA-NOVOSTI at the Kremlin here today.

St. Petersburg will host the eleventh Russia-EU summit May 31, with an unprecedentedly large number of state leaders taking part in it. The summit is to involve 15 heads of state and government from EU countries, the European Commission's President Romano Prodi, as well as Secretary-General Javier Solana of the European Council.

The leaders of 10 countries, which will join the EU in the near future, and which would also be expected to sign the Russia-EU partnership-and-cooperation agreement, were also invited to attend the summit.

This summit will take place during the celebration of St. Petersburg's 300-th anniversary. This in itself serves to confirm Russia's historic choice in favor of profound integration into Europe without any demarcation lines, Kremlin officials believe.

This will become the first Russia-EU summit after the signing of an EU-membership agreement by 10 candidate nations, Kremlin people added.

The EU will expand less than a year from now. We must work jointly for the sake of utilizing new opportunities (that will emerge as a result of the EU's expansion) as soon as possible and in full volume, the Kremlin spokesman added.

The present-day contractual base of bilateral relations between Russia and new EU members must be brought in conformity with EU standards. Jurists and sectoral experts will have to work real hard and hand in hand for the sake of accomplishing this objective. All in all, some 100 documents, which were signed by Russia and the afore-said ten countries, will either have to be renounced or drastically modified, a Kremlin spokesman noted.

In Moscow's opinion, this will create all essential pre-requisites for involving future EU members in the afore-mentioned partnership-and-cooperation agreement.

This won't be an automatic process, Kremlin people stressed. Each of the 10 new member-countries will join the partnership-and-cooperation agreement in line with a special protocol, which will be ratified accordingly. Among other things, Russia's Federal Assembly (Parliament) is also going to ratify these special protocols.

Moscow emphasizes the fact that, unlike Russia's interaction with other international organizations and structures, Russia-EU relations directly affect the interests of ordinary people. This implies real-life conditions for business operations, tourist trips, as well as student-and-professor exchanges.

The visa problem is a tell-tale example, the Kremlin believes.

New EU members will simultaneously join the Schengen visa agreement, also abolishing visa-free trips or mutual-trip restrictions between themselves and Russia.

The situation is compounded by the fact that, of the 10 prospective EU members, Cyprus, Malta and the Baltics are quite popular among ordinary Russians. In the long run, some of our citizens would be deprived of these convenient resorts, eventually choosing other resorts. Consequently, prospective EU members would lose a lot of money channelled into their economies by Russian tourists, officials in Moscow stressed.

Moscow is ready to examine Vladimir Putin's initiative about the switch-over to visa-free mutual trips between Russian and EU citizens in a serious and comprehensive manner. Naturally enough, substantial efforts will have to be exerted for the sake of attaining this goal; many current mechanisms will also have to be overhauled. We've got to move in this direction; quite possibly, the sides should accomplish this objective stage by stage, Kremlin officials pointed out.

Russia wants to steadily expand its mutually-advantageous interaction with the EU. Among other things, this can be done by establishing common European economic, energy, law-enforcement and security infrastructures, the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.

At the same time, the Russian side consistently defends its natural political, trade-and-economic and humanitarian interests, Kremlin people stressed.

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