EU-Russia beef summit heads for embarrassing climax

EU - Polish farm minister Andrzej Lepper on Monday (20 November) said Warsaw might lift its veto on EU-Russia treaty talks in time for the summit on Friday, but Russia's tough stance and the rigors of EU procedure augur an embarrassing end to the beef and liver dispute.
calendar icon 21 November 2006
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"The talks will take place. I think that after Thursday Russia will change its position and at least outline a timeframe [for lifting an export ban on Polish meat] and then Poland may change its position," Mr Lepper said, with European Commission experts set to give Polish food their stamp of approval the day before the summit.

But Russia insists that any commission evidence will have to be cross-checked by its own experts - which have yet to visit Poland - while EU procedure dictates that the Polish veto must be officially removed at a meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels on Thursday itself.

If there is a deal the day before EU and Russian leaders meet in Helsinki, the summit is still likely go down in memory as the Polish meat row summit that exposed EU division on how to handle Russia and highlighted Moscow's use of trade policy to put political pressure on critics.

Instead of the finer points of energy market access and security cooperation, European debate has focused on whether US liver re-exported through Poland was mislabeled by Polish or foreign traders and how Indian buffalo meat ended up being sold in Russian markets as Polish beef.

Mr Lepper said France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Estonia and the Finnish EU presidency back Poland in saying the Russian embargo is unfair, but most member states have explained they support Warsaw in the meat row but not on using the summit agenda to settle the meat dispute.

The Polish farm minister stated brusquely that "it's a problem for the EU and Russia" if the summit flops, blaming the European Commission for costing Poland €400 million in lost trade over the past year by not acting fast enough despite repeated appeals.

For its part, the commission has not come off looking well by jumping to attention at the last minute after trying to write off the trade embargo as a "bilateral issue" for the past 12 months on the basis that Moscow told Brussels it should keep its nose out.

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