August 13, 2008 / 5:29 PM / 11 years ago

INTERVIEW-EU should seek close Russia ties - Merkel ally

By Noah Barkin

BERLIN, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The European Union should press ahead with efforts to bind Russia to the bloc, even offering Moscow a "privileged partnership" if it shows a willingness to adopt European values, a leading German politician said.

Ruprecht Polenz, head of the foreign policy committee of the German parliament, told Reuters it would be a mistake to scrap partnership talks with Russia because of its violent conflict with Georgia over the past week.

Other EU members, including Britain and central European countries, have questioned whether those talks should proceed following Russia’s use of force against the former Soviet satellite.

"I think the EU should make Russia a very clear proposal with clearly stated expectations in order to positively influence Russia’s future behaviour," said Polenz, a veteran member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

"It should offer a ‘privileged partnership’ if Russia is ready to adopt European values going forward," Polenz added. "It would be in the interests of both sides if the relationship developed into such a partnership. The pre-conditions are not present in Russia today, but ties could move in that direction."

Merkel and other CDU members have used "privileged partnership" in the past to describe a possible link between the EU and Turkey which stops short of full membership in the bloc.

But it appears to be the first time the term has been used in relation to Russia and highlights the huge divide between Germany and some of its EU neighbours on how to handle a bolder, more defiant Kremlin.

Germany, which is highly dependent on Russian energy, has been hesitant to blame Moscow for the conflict with Georgia, as the United States and some European countries have done.

The Russian assault, which Moscow says was a response to Georgian attacks aimed at retaking the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, has caused alarm in central Europe and elicited warnings of "consequences" from the White House.

Polenz did not specify what such a partnership could look like, but made clear it should be a "far-reaching" pact and be contingent on Russia taking concrete steps towards Europe in the areas of justice, human rights and political values.

Talks on an EU-Russia partnership agreement, governing political and economic cooperation on issues like energy and trade, were expected to begin in early 2007 during Germany’s presidency of the bloc.

But they were delayed for some 18 months due to objections by ex-communist members of the bloc, including Poland and Lithuania.

(Reporting by Noah Barkin, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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