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BRUSSELS, December 16, 21:56 /ITAR-TASS/. The European Union has been able to make only one free trade area agreement since the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 because it always seeks to get immediate and maximum access to the markets of its partners, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with his EU colleagues on Monday, December 16.
“When we asked why this was so, our partners were obviously at a loss. But we think the reason is that the EU seeks to get maximum access to the markets of its partners at a time when the European Union is way ahead of them in terms of economic development. It is not surprising that these countries try to protect their markets and are in no hurry to sign these documents,” he said.
The minister also recalled that free trade area agreements with Eastern Partnership countries had been “prepared in secrecy” and posted on the European Commission website “only after initialling.”
“But after they had been initialled, they could not be altered. Where is European openness then?” the minister asked.
“Over the past several days we have often heard statements that had Russia not interfered in Ukraine’s affairs, everything would have been fine. We used concrete examples to show how we were acting and how our partners were acting when they came to Kiev and went straight to Maidan [Independence Square where the opposition has been rallying since the end of November], giving out biscuits and saying that the Ukrainian people should make a free choice in favour of Europe,” Lavrov said.
This raises several questions: “First of all, if this is a free choice, then let Ukrainian people make the decision themselves. Second, urging them to make their choice in favour of Europe is a wrong contradistinction. It’s some sort of a hint that Russia does not want to cooperate with Europe and is pulling Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries aside,” the minister said.
“This is not so at all. And we used concrete examples to explain that all the processes that had been launched by integration in Eurasia aimed solely to achieve one goal - make the economies of the Customs Union [Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia] more competitive,” he said.
Lavrov expressed hope that these countries would be joined by those that have already filed applications for accession to the Customs Union and this would raise it to the level where “we can liberalise trade with Europe further but on more advantageous and more equal terms.”
“The foreign policy concept approved by the president includes the task of building a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. We seek this liberalisation. We understand that in a globalising world we should look for economic advantages through the broadest possible integration and liberalisation of investment and other regimes. But doing this from a knowingly no-win position by simply opening our gate wide and at the same time removing the gatekeeper would be irresponsible for the government. Any foreign policy can succeed only if takes into account the interests of partners,” Lavrov concluded.