EU, Russia to hold first talks on strategic deal
The European Union and Russia are to hold their first talks on a wide-ranging strategic treaty governing issues from energy to education on Friday in Brussels, reported dpa.
According to a statement from the EU's executive, the European Commission, the two sides will "focus on defining the overall scope of the negotiations, the agenda for the different areas to be covered, and establishing a calendar for negotiations."
The talks on ambassadorial level come a week after EU leaders met Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev in the Siberian oil town of Khanty-Mansiysk in a meeting hailed as starting a new era of cordiality between Moscow and its European neighbours.
However, the talks on the deal, which is meant to provide legally- binding rules on how Russia and the EU should deal with each other in practically all aspects of cooperation, are expected to be complex.
For example, Europe is keen to bind Russia to giving its companies fair access to Russia's energy reserves.
However, Russian officials say that the EU treats Russian companies unfairly, because Russian investments in EU energy markets are far lower than vice versa.
The EU is also under pressure from its electorates and some Eastern European members to make parts of any deal conditional on Russian improvements in areas such as human rights, political liberalization and relations with its neighbours, especially Georgia.
In the past, the Kremlin has replied to such calls by accusing the EU of breaching human rights - especially those of Russians - in its own member states, and of violating the sovereignty of Russia's ally Serbia over the issue of Kosovo.
Relations between the EU and Russia are currently governed by a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) agreed in 1997.
Talks on negotiating a new deal began in 2006, but it took the EU's member states until May to mandate the commission to begin talks after Lithuania and Poland vetoed the move in protest at what they saw as unfair Russian treatment.