”The Future of EU-Russian Relations - The Liberal Viewpoint" seminar was held in Helsinki, Finland on the 29th of April and gathered over 200 people in the audience. The hosts of the seminar were the Swedish People’s Party in Finland (SFP) and the Swedish International Liberal Center (SILC) and it was arranged in cooperation with Russian ALDE member party Yabloko and Svenska Bildningsförbundet.
The seminar was divided into three parts, starting with introductory remarks from Carl Haglund, Minister of Defence and SFP Party Chair, Martin Ängeby, Secretary General of SILC and Astrid Thors MP, ALDE Party Vice President, followed by key note addresses from Yabloko founder, Dr. Grigory Yavlinsky and MEP Kristiina Ojuland. The seminar continued with panel discussions on human rights as well as trade and economic relations in the afternoon.
Carl Haglund commenced by pointing out that a well-functioning relationship between Russia and the EU is beneficial for both parties, which was echoed in later discussions. Also the fact that the EU is Russia’s biggest and Russia EU’s third biggest trading partner was repeated during the day. Peace through trade is a fundament for the EU and something to continue working on. It took 18 years of bargaining before Russia joined the WTO in August 2012 and there still remain obstacles in the trading policy.
EU-Russia cooperation must be based on mutual respect. The importance of the EU putting pressure on Russia to respect freedom of speech and human rights was underlined during the seminar. The ”foreign agent”-law, the Sergei Magnitsky case and other anti-democratic laws are alarming. Russia is not interested in being led by the hand towards democracy – the country must do the work itself when it comes to democracy and human rights. Some of the people working for these values are in jail, but many were at the seminar – including the founder of the Yabloko party.
In his key note speech Dr. Girgory Yavlinsky stated: “The important question is not how long Putin is going to stay in power – the important question is what is going to be instead of him? All other questions are secondary. Then we will be able to speak about elections et cetera.”
MEP Kristiina Ojuland reminded that the Russian Parliamentary elections in 2011 were the real starting point of the lack of trust. They were clearly not free and fair and that has also changed the European Parliament’s view on Russia. Corruption and VISA freedom for Russian citizens were also addressed during the seminar which, thanks to simultaneous translation into Russian and English, attracted a vast number of participants. The seminar has been recorded and can be viewed on www.sfp.fi/russia.