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Russia-Britain conflict gets lunch break

Summit of foreign affairs ministers of the 27 EU member states began in Brussels on Monday.

The main point on the agenda is the draft European Constitution, which is to be ratified before 2009. Another important issue to be discussed is the relations with Russia. The ministers will try to work out a general approach to solving the key differences between Brussels and Moscow, first of all the issue of Kosovo status and the Litvinenko case. However, Brussels is not ready yet to categorically side with London in the Russia-Britain conflict. “Certainly, we admit there might appear new differences while discussing the draft EU constitution treaty,” said Portugal's Foreign Minister Luis Amado, opening a two-day session of the EU Council on Common and Foreign Policy in Brussels. These words were in stark contrast to the atmosphere among the EU top officials just a few hours before the summit. Earlier in the day, it seemed the long-awaited ratification of the EU treaty was as close as never before. At the EU summit in June, German Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to soap down all those who opposed the draft. Even Warsaw eventually agreed to sign the draft treaty, although it was against the 'double majority' system of EU voting, which was stipulated in the draft.

Portugal, now chairing the EU, has processed the draft into a complete 200-page document over the last month. Judging by first feedback, all EU embers were satisfied with it. Thus, Poland's Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said in Brussels: “Poland is satisfied with the compromise reached in June, and has no objections to the new treaty.” Afterwards, EuroCommission Chairman Jose Manuel Barroso, opening the session of the intergovernmental committee for revising the draft on Monday, said when exactly the European Constitution will be ratified: “We will finalize the document by autumn, and will be able to ratify it in October at the summit in Lisbon.” So, the EU countries would be able to ratify the treaty by June 2009, when the EU Parliament is elected. However, soon after the session had begun, it became clear it would not be so easy to ratify the draft.

This time, Great Britain spoke against it. London categorically objects to the treaty's mentioning the Charter of the EU citizens' rights. Warsaw immediately supported London. Great Britain and Poland reject the Charter due to different reasons. Apparently, the reference to the Charter in the EU laws will force London to change its labor laws. For instance, it will have to allow strikes. In their turn, the brothers Lekh and Jaroslav Kachinsky, who rule Poland, and who are zealous Catholics, dislike the Charter's position which actually makes same-sex marriages legal. Anyway, London's and Warsaw's stand might slow down the European Constitution's ratification, and spoil Portugal's chairmanship. Despite these differences, EU foreign ministers were absolutely unanimous on other key issues. First of all, on Kosovo. It became clear on Friday the Kosovo issue will not be solved soon in the UN Security Council. The draft resolution, worked out by the group of Western states, was taken off the Council's agenda.

European and US diplomats did not conceal it was due to Russia, that promised to veto the resolution. Eventually, the issue of Kosovo's status was submitted to the contact group made up of Great Britain, France, Germany, the US, Italy, and Russia. The group's first session will be held in Vienna on Wednesday. So, the European diplomats discussed in Brussels the EU position for the upcoming talks. “We now have to admit there will be no UN Security Council's resolution on Kosovo. It is important not to adopt a laissez-faire attitude to the process,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “We should work out our own position, and defend Europe's influence in the issue,” added British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Most ministers agreed that the EU should assist the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, but support Marti Ahtisaari's plan at the same time. Jose Manuel Barroso expressed the general attitude: “The status quo in Kosovo is unacceptable. Serbia and Kosovo should know that their future lies in Europe. However, Serbia cannot play any role in the EU if it does not participate in solving the crisis. Meanwhile, the solution should be found on the basis of the Ahtisaari plan.”

Another issue, directly concerning Russia, was discussed in Brussels on Monday. It is the Moscow-London standoff over Andrei Lugovoi's extradition. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown expressed London's position once again. “We demand the Russian authorities be aware of their responsibility for extraditing a citizen who is a chief suspect,” said Brown in his first press conference as PM. The EU supported London in the beginning of last week. This time, however, it did not hurry to put the issue on the agenda. Yet, this point was included in the very last moment, under the British Foreign Office's pressure. Anyway, the European officials tried to play down the Russia-Britain confrontation, while David Miliband told his counterparts about London's claims to Moscow. However, he had to do it during the working lunch and not at the session. So, the EU distanced itself from the conflict, showing that the Moscow-London conflict is a matter of bilateral relations. At least, so far. (kommersant.com)