Finland volgt harde lijn tegenover Rusland (en)

Source: EUobserver (EUOBSERVER) i, published on Tuesday, December 19 2006.
Auteur: | By Honor Mahony

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The outgoing presidency of the EU, Finland, has blasted Russia for the state of democracy in the country, warning Moscow against moving toward authoritarianism.

"We are fully entitled to be concerned at the way things are going in Russia," Finnish prime minister Matti Vanhanen told the European Parliament on Monday (18 December).

"We need to see a firmer commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the market economy. We do not want Russia to go in an authoritarian direction."

The prime minister's blunt comments come after a six-month presidency where Helsinki sought to put relations between Russia and the EU on an even keel.

Finland took the unusual step of inviting Russian president Vladimir Putin to an EU summit in October to talk about energy issues with the bloc heavily dependent on supplies from Russia.

However Mr Putin's presence only served to highlight divisions within the EU - broadly between those who want to handle Russia with pragmatism and those who want to highlight its human rights issues - over how to treat its giant neighbour to the east.

It also took place against an uneasy backdrop of the murder of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, with some accusing the Kremlin of being involved.

A month later, Finland's attempt to open talks on a strategic treaty governing EU-Russia relations were derailed by Poland, which refused to give its support to the agreement until Moscow lifted its ban on Polish meat imports.

Speaking about the failed agreement, Mr Vanhanen warned that Russia would be able to pick and choose its favoured member states using bilateral treaties if the EU did not approach it as a bloc.

"Some will get good agreements, some will get bad ones and some may get no agreement at all," he said.

Russia's stormy relations with the EU have continued since. Last month it threatened to ban all EU meat imports from 1 January out of concern about food standards in Bulgaria and Romania and then approached certain governments to secure bilateral deals - something that it has so far not managed.

But its actions have caused widespread concern throughout the bloc with EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou travelling to Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the trade ban threat with Russian agriculture minister Alexei Gordeyev.

Russia is however not the only country that faced Mr Vanhanen's fire. The Finnish prime minister was also strongly critical of Russian ally Belarus.

"On our doorstep we have Belarus, a black hole on the face of European democracy, a scar on the face of Europe, a Europe that should be unblemished," he said.

His comments come as the EU is planning to impose mini-trade sanctions worth €400 million a year on Belarus from mid-2007 due to long-standing abuse of international trade union rules.

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