Wednesday´s EU-Russia Summit will be the last major foreign policy event under the Nice Treaty. On 1 December, the new President of the Council and the new High Representative will assume their posts. Russia will be one of their main challenges.
Sweden will continue to chair Council meetings until the end of its Presidency, in accordance with conclusions from the EU Summit in December 2008. But that doesn´t mean that the two new top politicians will keep silent. They will surely have a role at the European Council 10-11 December, perhaps appearing at a joint press conference with Reinfeldt and Barroso. The real turf wars will be during the Spanish Presidency. Zapatero will not give away Spain´s six months in the spotlights so easily.
On Wednesday in Stockholm, however, Reinfeldt will run the show together with José Manuel Barroso and Javier Solana. Discussions with Russian President Dmitrij Medvedev in the `Hall of Mirrors´ at Grand Hôtel are likely to focus on climate change, energy security and trade issues. How human rights issues will be brought up is a subject for EU Foreign Ministers´ meeting tomorrow.
Relations to Russia have been difficult for every Presidency to handle. Sweden has done better than most. The Foreign Ministry did a lot behind the scenes to avoid a new Georgia conflict this summer.
True, there is anger in Moscow over Carl Bildt´s outspoken comments on the war in Georgia, and Sweden´s statements on murders of human rights activists. It took a long time for Russia to confirm the date and place for the EU-Russia Summit. But that kind of tensions is better than treating the Kremlin with silk gloves.
Of course, the EU needs Russia, not least for its energy resources. It is perhaps no coincidence that the gas pipelines Nordstream and Southstream were approved by EU Member States just before the Summit. But Russia is also dependent on the EU as its main trading partner.
During Foreign Ministers´discussions tomorrow, there will be hardliners (many from Eastern Europe) and softies (including Germany and Italy). Of course, the European Union needs a constructive dialogue with Russia. In my view, however, it would be a sign of weakness if the EU did not dare to speak up about killings of human rights activists and journalists at the meeting with Medvedev. The same is true for the rigged regional elections and the continued human rights abuses in Chechnya.
Hopefully, Medvedev will not repeat Putin´s aggressive appearance in Stockholm 2001. Then, Putin chocked the press and his host Göran Persson by saying `If the Albanian UCK-terrorists cannot be disarmed they must be eliminated´. Putin continued: `In Macedonia, we are presently experiencing the same thing as we have experienced in Chechnya´. Fortunately, the EU used its diplomatic skills to solve the conflict in Macedonia, not the brutal strategy of the Kremlin in the Caucasus.
But even if Medvedev is more soft-spoken than Putin, that does not mean that the politics of the Kremlin has changed much, whether it comes to Chechnya or to human rights in general.
Promoting democracy and freedom of the media in Russia is a strategic task for the new EU High Representative, to be appointed on Thursday. If too little is done, the Russian model will corrupt state power also in parts of the European Union. Look at Italy.
One key to success might be to frame this work in a modern strategy for democratization and media pluralism, to be applied in all EU external relations. Anna Lindh brought up this issue during the Swedish Presidency in 2001. It might be something for the new High Representative to consider.