As the EU Foreign Ministers met in Brussels Monday, the Polish minister vetoed a mandate necessary to launch negotiations on a new Russia-European Union partnership agreement. The acting document, signed in 1997 for a ten-year term, is to expire soon. Agreement renewal was generally expected for November 24, the day of the Russia-EU summit in Helsinki, to be attended by President Vladimir Putin.
Poland is coming out with two demands, one of which has been widely broadcast, but is paradoxically of a far smaller importance than the other.
Warsaw insists on Russia ratifying the European Energy Charter, alluding to the alleged instability of Russian energy supplies to Europe.
In fact, the matter boils down to a Russian ban on food imports from Poland of November 2005, which Warsaw has firmly demanded be lifted.
Both issues are open to debate with Moscow. Now Poland is tying them together in a move that falls short of blackmailing other EU members and Russia.
The Energy Charter itself is certainly not the crux of the matter. Russia signed the declarative instrument in The Hague on December 17, 1991. The Energy Charter Treaty of 1994 and the later Transit Protocol are of far greater importance. Neither document satisfies Russia as both oblige countries outside the European Union to offer no obstacles whatsoever to oil and gas exports to the EU by their mainlines. Russia regards it as Brussels' attempt to control its pipeline networks.
Russia does not stand to gain anything by joining the Energy Charter. President Putin stated so directly during the informal Russia-EU summit in Finland's Lahti a month ago. Moscow and Brussels will never become solid partners unless Russian energy producers' interests are reckoned with.
Unlike Poland, other EU countries see that Russia has a point here. The European Union intends to add generally acceptable Charter premises to its new partnership agreement with Russia. Emma Udwin, European Commission spokesperson, transparently hinted that much a few days ago.
As for Polish meat and other foodstuffs, the issue made a sensational controversy a year ago, when Russian sanitary inspectors spotted massive export certificate forgeries. Poland never denied fakes, which were better than homemade, with genuine papers having protection on a par with banknotes. Russian experts are sure certain Polish government inspectors and other officials were involved in the forgeries.
There is a split between the new and old European Union members about the part Russia plays in Europe, and Brussels fully realizes what a stumbling block the Polish veto can make.