Despite considerable differences of opinion, particularly on the subject of human rights, the EU is firmly committed to a strategic partnership with Russia. In the energy sector, on climate protection, in research and in efforts to resolve international conflicts both sides are keen to cooperate more closely in future.
"There are many areas where we can work together," Chancellor Angela Merkel, the current President of the European Council, noted at the end of the working session. In this connection she highlighted the economic relations between the EU and Russia.
The EU is Russia's number one trading partner and Russia is the EU's third largest trading partner. Under these circumstances both sides have a strong interest in good relations and a favourable climate for investment.
The EU accounts for 52% of Russia's foreign trade and with over 60% of foreign direct investment in Russia is also the biggest investor in the country. Russia for its part is the EU's third largest trading partner after the United States and China. In 2005 aggregate trade between Russia and the EU was worth 166 billion euro. Since Russia's exports to the EU are mainly natural gas, oil and other commodities and commodity prices are currently high, the country has a foreign trade surplus vis-à-vis the EU (2005: 50.3 billion euro). Russia supplies 20% of the EU's oil and 40% of its natural gas. The EU's main exports to Russia are capital goods and transport equipment, chemicals, agricultural products and textiles.
Human rights a hot topic
The President of the European Council also expressed her concern over the human rights situation in Russia. "I hope those who want to demonstrate in Samara will be able to do so" she commented. While she could understand the authorities taking steps to stop violence, she added, if people were behaving peacefully and simply on their way to a demonstration, that was "a different story".
Early warning system for energy security
Despite the difficulties, the talks had nevertheless been very constructive, the Chancellor reported. Both sides, Russia and the EU, were interested in negotiating a successor to the partnership agreement due to expire shortly. Even if Samara had produced no concrete results, on energy issues negotiations had already begun. In this sector Europe and Russia plan to develop jointly an early warning system for energy bottlenecks. Another issue covered was border cooperation. Putin gave an assurance that steps would be taken to deal with the problem of long queues at border checkpoints. In the field of research, too, cooperation is to be intensified. Both sides agreed that there is considerable scope for collaboration on the European satellite navigation system Galileo. European Commission President Manuel Barroso was very pleased with the progress made on freedom of movement. On 1 June an EU-Russian agreement on visa facilitation is due to enter into force. The partners are currently negotiating on the partial abolition of visas for travel purposes.
Remain talking, tackle the problems
The backdrop to the talks was not trouble-free. Besides the recent Russian ban on Polish meat imports, there remain many bones of contention between Russia and the EU. One such issue was the recent removal to another site of a Soviet war memorial in the centre of the Estonian capital of Tallinn, a step that was criticized by the Russian Government.
"It is not always possible to convince one another," Angela Merkel noted. But to discuss matters frankly and honestly with one another was of itself of great value, she added. As far as the outcome of the many talks ahead was concerned, the Chancellor expressed confidence, adding "I believe the difficulties can be overcome."
Already on Thursday evening European Commission President Barroso, President Vladimir Putin and the President of the European Council had met for dinner in a fishing village on the banks of the Volga. The working sessions were attended on behalf of the German EU Presidency also by Federal Economics Minister Michael Glos and Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.