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Sergey Lavrov

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Chairman of Board of Trustees of RIAC

I am very pleased with an opportunity to address the readers of the Russian parliamentary European Club magazine’s anniversary edition. The Russian parliamentary European Club makes a useful contribution to the noble cause of enhancing broad and constructive cooperation on our continent.

The 20th century was the time of numerous shocks for Europe, among them the catastrophes of the two World Wars – the related anniversaries are being celebrated this year. Those tragic events vividly demonstrate what being sure of one’s exceptionality, as well as trying to strengthen one’s security and advance one’s interests at the expense of others can lead to. It would seem that having learnt from history, our continent should embrace the path of mutually beneficial cooperation and sustainable development in the interests of this generation and the ones to follow. All the more so, as the ideological differences that were dividing Europe in the 20th century are now a thing of the past – their symbol, the Berlin Wall, was demolished a full quarter of a century ago.

However, the Cold War legacy has not yet been overcome, the task of destroying the dividing lines in Europe is still far from being reached. Our Western partners keep trying to divide the European countries into "friendly" and "hostile" and give them the false choice of "with us or against us", as has been clearly illustrated by the situation in Ukraine. The visa barriers have still not been lifted. The aims to create a common space of peace, security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region, set by the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council, have not been achieved.

At the same time, Europe is no longer the centre of global policy-making, and thus it should take into account the rise of other loci of power and influence and hold its ground in competition. It is evident that the only way to secure a rightful place for the "old continent" in a new international system is through creating synergy of all countries situated on it, which would give a strong impetus to their development and strengthen their positions in the international arena.

In this context, the relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union – two major actors in the European space – have become even more important. We have made considerable progress over the last two decades. We have reached an agreement on the establishment of four common spaces. In 2012, mutual trade grew to a record level of USD 410 billion, and there are reasons to believe that the rates of the last year may turn out to be even higher. Our country is the leading supplier of hydrocarbons to the EU market. Russia and the EU cooperate closely in the field of investments and implement mutually beneficial projects in the areas of innovations, science and technology under the Partnership for Modernization joint initiative. Unprecedented steps have been taken to promote people-to-people contacts.

However, the qualitative breakthrough in our relations is still hindered by the stereotypes of the past era of confrontation. It is important for us to understand whether our EU partners are ready, not in word, but in deed, to adhere to the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual accommodation of interests. Historical experience has demonstrated that attempts to isolate Russia led to severe consequences for entire Europe and, on the contrary, that active engagement of our country in the affairs on the continent was accompanied by long periods of peace and development.

We believe that Russia and the European Union have reached such a point at which efforts to deepen interactions are in a deadlock lacking clearly defined strategic objectives. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, launched an initiative to gradually harmonize European and Eurasian integration with a view to establishing a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. We have all that is necessary to reach this ambitious goal, including shared evolutionary and cultural roots, a high degree of convergence between our economies, commitment to a single set of trade rules based on WTO standards, need to pursue new sources of growth and innovation-driven development.

It is clear that a completely new level of cooperation between Russia and the European Union can hardly be imagined without a very strong engagement of European civil society. In this context, we cannot overstate the role of parliamentary and civil society organisations of Russia and the EU Member States in strengthening our strategic partnership, building up trust and mutual understanding between peoples and expanding humanitarian ties and contacts. The parliamentary diplomacy potential is in great demand, including within the OSCE and the Council of Europe – the Parliamentary Assemblies of these organizations provide important fora towards developing European cooperation based on shared values and standards. In order to realize their full potential, it is necessary to abandon attempts to use them as a tool for implementing the policy of certain groups of states and to aim their activities at dealing with truly important tasks related to building a common European house. Mechanisms for interparliamentary dialogue should be used more actively to strengthen cultural, humanitarian and educational ties and to find effective solutions to problems such as large-scale non-citizenship, uncontrolled migration, drug trafficking, extremism, nationalism, intolerance, and discrimination.

Considerable support in dealing with these tasks is provided by the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee which discusses key aspects of bilateral relations in a constructive and businesslike manner.

We are satisfied to note that civil society is being actively involved in the interpretation of the processes that are underway in Europe. Civil society organizations’ activities contribute greatly to the humanitarian, cultural and economic convergence of European people, to the fight against neo-Nazism, xenophobia and the attempts to falsify history, including that of World War II. The freedom and variety of forms of communication between NGOs often help to have a broader view of problems than traditional diplomacy allows. The possibility to have an informal discussion of all issues, even the most pressing ones, is really important, in particular for the multidimensional relations that exist between Russia and the European Union.

We believe that enhanced cooperation between civil societies will facilitate the removal of visa barriers on the continent in the near future. Being an apparent anachronism, visas impede further development of commercial, economic and cultural ties, as well as people-to-people contacts which are a necessary precondition for building Greater Europe without dividing lines.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in close cooperation with the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation and many Russian NGOs seeks to support the initiatives put forward by public diplomacy. In the last several years, a number of steps have been undertaken in this regard, namely the establishment of the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the Russian International Affairs Council. These entities are intended to promote an effective foreign policy dialogue between state agencies and civil society.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the European Club on its anniversary and to wish every success in building confidence in Europe.

Source: European Club

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