EU must have unified Russia stance: Poland’s Tusk

BRUSSELS – The European Union must end internal divisions over Russia and act together to strengthen its hand in talks on energy and other issues, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk wrote in an article published on Monday.

“There is a growing tendency for member states and large corporations to act autonomously,” Tusk said in the article, published in the Financial Times and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, referring partly to relations with Russia.

“There is no cohesion here. On the contrary, diverging interests and even rivalry are common.”

A joint stance of the 27-nation bloc would help to achieve a better deal in future negotiations on a new wide-ranging cooperation pact with Russia, notably on oil and gas supplies.

To improve its relations with Moscow, the EU should be ready to offer visa-free travel to Russians on its territory in the long-term, Tusk said.

But possible objections from Russia must not deter the EU from offering membership prospects one day to some eastern neighbors, such as Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Belarus if they push ahead with political and economic reforms.

“The European aspirations of those countries are, at times, seen as part of a power struggle between Russia and the west,” Tusk said, calling this a “simplistic approach.”

“The EU’s response to reforms by some European neighbor countries should be to offer the prospect of membership.”

Moscow would like to have those countries in its sphere of influence and, on energy, it prefers to clinch bilateral deals on energy with EU members, which at times leads to conflicts inside the bloc.

Poland and the Baltic republics staunchly oppose a Russian-German plan to build a large natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, fearing it might reduce Russian gas supply through pipelines on their territories.

Tusk noted that Russia has still not ratified an energy charter treaty, which would guard the bloc against supply disruption and said the EU should be tough in talks on energy as its main recipient.

“As a consequence of an ill-conceived realism, we could hand Russia and initiative in shaping the terms of co-operation in some energy sector field,” he wrote.

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