After 18 years of negotiations, Russia has joined the World Trade Organisation as its 156th member. The EU has said that this will provide an important boost to European companies, as Russia will now lower its import duties, limit its export duties and grant greater access to European businesses through multilateral rules and obligations for mutual trade.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht was quoted in a Commission press release as saying:
“Today’s WTO accession is a major step for Russia’s further integration into the world economy. It will facilitate investment and trade, help to accelerate the modernisation of the Russian economy and offer plenty of business opportunities for both Russian and European companies. I trust that Russia will meet the international trading rules and standards to which it has committed.”
The main exports from the EU to Russia are cars (€7 billion), medicines (€6 billion), car parts (€3.5 billion), telephones and parts (€2.5 billion) and tractors (€1 billion). Russia mostly exports raw materials, including oil and gas, to the EU. The decrease in import duties will be significant in these areas.
The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, has criticised Russia’s treatment of three women from the punk band Pussy Riot, calling their sentences of two years’ imprisonment each for performing a protest song in a cathedral “disproportionate”:
“This case adds to the recent upsurge in politically motivated intimidation and prosecution of opposition activists in the Russian Federation, a trend that is of growing concern to the European Union. Respect for human rights and the rule of law is an indispensable part of the EU-Russia relationship.”
“Sentencing of the three young women, two of whom are mothers of small children, to two years in prison for a peaceful, if controversial, expression of their views, is deeply troubling.”
The women face only being able to see their families and young children every six months and only receive phone calls quarterly. Their lawyer Nikolai Polozov is appealing the verdict.
Romania’s constitutional court has reinstated suspended President Traian Basescu after the panel voted six to three to declare the referendum on his impeachment invalid. Over 87% of those who voted in the referendum voted for Basescu’s impeachment but the turnout fell slightly short of the 50% required for the quorum condition. The population data used to calculate turnout was challenged in the matter but this argument was rejected.
An elderly Spanish woman has ruined a 19th century fresco after deciding to conduct an unauthorised restoration on Elias Garcia Martinez’s work, ‘Ecce Homo’. She said that she had started the project with good intentions and that it had gotten out of hand.
The EUtopia editorial team will be taking a short break from blogging and look forward to seeing you again in September.