MOSCOW, June 4 (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev’s emphasis on human rights and democracy will allow the European Union to take a fresh look at relations with Russia, the EU’s external relations commissioner told Reuters.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, in Moscow for talks with Russian officials, played down predictions in Europe that a new strategic partnership pact between Brussels and Moscow could be concluded by the end of this year.
She said an EU-Russia summit in Siberia’s Khanty-Mansiysk region later this month would be an opportunity to take the temperature of relations with Russia, which supplies a quarter of Europe’s energy needs.
“I think we have to take a fresh look now at the relations, very important relations... so we are open and we are looking forward to Khanty-Mansiysk for the first EU-Russia summit under President Medvedev.
“In every one of his speeches that he has been holding now, he has made this particular emphasis on the rule of law, human rights, democracy and also the modernisation of the economy,” Ferrero-Waldner said in the interview late on Tuesday.
Medvedev, a 42-year-old former law professor, was sworn in last month to replace his mentor Vladimir Putin as president and he could take a more conciliatory approach in foreign relations and human rights, an area where Moscow has come under fire from Western governments.
The EU-Russia pact is designed to map out long-term relations on everything from energy to visas and trade.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon last week said he thought the pact could be concluded during his country’s six-month EU presidency, which starts next month.
Ferrero-Waldner said: “It will be a very comprehensive agreement, a substantive agreement, so it will take some time, because the quality will be most important.”
The first steps to opening the talks will be at the EU-Russia summit in Siberia this month. The launch of negotiations was held up for 18 months because of disputes between Moscow and some EU member states.
Some governments favour a short, declaratory treaty document while others want a lengthy, legally binding deal which would face a complex ratification process in EU parliaments.
“We just got a mandate and it means 27 member states want us to make a comprehensive agreement that is legally binding in the end and that is what we want to achieve,” said the commissioner.
She said the political section of a deal could be negotiated in a “quicker way, because the free trade part will only start as soon as Russia is a WTO (World Trade Organisation) member”.
Russia, the biggest economy still outside the WTO, is finalising a deal on its accession.
Ferrero-Waldner also met business leaders, including the CEO of troubled Russian oil major TNK-BP, TNBPI.RTS Robert Dudley. Neither side commented on their discussions.
She said Russia needed a rule-based economy to ensure it sent out the right signals about how it treats business.
“It is very clear that we want a business climate here that is open, transparent and that thinks also of the symbols that are being sent out to the whole world,” she said.
TNK-BP is co-owned by BP BP.L and a group of Russian billionaire shareholders. The two sets of owners are in dispute over the firm's management and state security officers have conducted several searches of TNK-BP's offices. (Editing by Robert Woodward)
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