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Chairman of the board of the EEC Viktor Khristenko’s speech at the conference marking the 20th anniversary of the Association of European Businesses

Chairman of the board of the EEC Viktor Khristenko’s speech at the conference marking the 20th anniversary of the Association of European Businesses

10/5/2015

Dear colleagues,

On this festive evening, I would like to say a few things. It might be that not all of them will be in line with the easy style of congratulation address. Still, I believe it to be useful. It is the custom not only to celebrate with friends but to discuss serious and sometimes painful issues with them, too. However, I shall try to be as short-spoken as possible and maintain a positive attitude.

First of all, of course, I most sincerely congratulate the Association of European Businesses in Russia on its 20th anniversary! This is a big anniversary of great importance, a time when an organisation is still young and energetic, yet it starts to fully reap the fruit of its accumulated experience, wisdom and reputation.

In summary:

We all follow the news. But if you follow it on a regular basis and attentively you may quickly be discouraged,

as the global agenda is mostly depressing.

Regional conflicts, migration crises, radicalism of all shades and at all levels.

It looks like in this stormy ocean there is only one type of vessel which, notwithstanding anything, pursues its own positive objective. It tries to balance on the waves and to sturdily survive hurricanes. It looks for clear ways where they are not visible at first glance, lays new routes and takes care of the well-functioning ones.

It is business. It can not work in a different way. This is its exalted and, if you wish, civilizing function. Business brings pragmatism to the complex network of global relations.

Politicians vote with their hands but business votes with money. And this is another degree of sensibility to that which is taking place and of responsibility.

For many years, while occupying different positions, I had to deal with relations with Europe, and relations with European business.

I have said many times before and I shall repeat it once again: the strategic character of relations between partners does not mean there are no burning issues. It means the possibility and ability to openly and constructively discuss any, even the most delicate, subjects and arrive at mutually acceptable decisions.

The Association of European Businesses in Russia, and European business in general have always acted as real partners.

You always feel very precisely and understand very deeply the currently important issues, it is a pleasure doing business with you.

When I spoke at your organisation, it was almost fifteen years ago, I told you about the project of the pan-European economic space. It was born as an attempt to solve the current problems and to see the strategic prospects in the relations between Russia and the EU on the basis of the formula of WTO+ and Free Trade Zone+.

It was a story of a system of dialogues, of the functional and sector-wide aspect of the Russia-EU strategic partnership, on the further inclusion in this construction of the nearest neighbours of Russia in the Eurasian space. This work was to result in concluding a comprehensive agreement on a free trade zone between Russia and the EU. The project also included a common energy space - the most sensitive sector.

Approximately 10 yeas ago I told you about our joint work with Andris Piebalgs, who was then the European Commissioner for energy. It was dedicated to the harmonisation of the energy strategies of Russia and the EU by 2020. We not onlyopenly provided each other with the texts of strategic documents but tried to identify the zones of high risks together, and tried to jointly find solutions.

This strategic project was aimed at increasing reciprocal trust, and the reliable functioning of the "supplier - transit country - consumer" chain on a long-term basis.

A little earlier than 5 years ago I told you about industrial harmonisation. Together with Günter Verheugen, who is present here. As the then Vice President of the European Commission he was responsible for entrepreneurship and industry, and worked on connecting the industrial strategies of Russia and the EU in aircraft construction, car construction, the pharmaceutical industry and the metallurgical industry. Together we visited enterprises of these sectors in Russia and Europe, and together we met the captains of this business.

In general, all this work, all these years, was conducted in close interaction with business in Russia and Europe. Otherwise, all this could not have been realized, it would have been devoid of any sense.

Three years ago I spoke at your conference and told you about the Eurasian economic project as an emerging space for new opportunities. Then, the context was quite different.

And now, where is all this?

We have arrived at such times when speeches about the theoretical possibility of the theoretical possibility, in the long term, of a delicate dialogue between the EU and the Eurasian Union are considered groundbreaking.

And even such easy topic is accompanied by a whole host of "ifs".

A whole complex of problems has formed in the system of Russia-EU political relations, and of course it has an impact on the economy. These problems have changed many things and made us regard many things in a different way.

Not long ago, in the most important sectors of the economy we were walking jointly along the path of strategic partnership, sharing risks and technological cooperation.

Now we are considerably lagging behind in sensitive spheres. But the most crucial issue is that, even in those sectors which were active cooperation zones yesterday, risk revaluation may lead to closing up joint activities and in the worst case to reciprocal isolation, meaning a ban on cooperation. For business - for any business - that means losses, including losses from the point of view of global competitiveness.

But, as the proverb goes, "a holy place is never empty". Of course, life does not stand still. From the point of view of the Eurasian project, decreasing the level of cooperation in the Western track leads to increased activity in the South-Eastern direction – in the direction of the Asia-Pacific region, as well as in the direction of the Latin American region.

These are relations with China and the implementation of formats of modern all-inclusive agreements on free trade zones, for example, with Vietnam and negotiating similar treaties with Israel, India, Egypt. Mutual interest in the development of trade and economic cooperation of the EAEU with MERCUSOR, with ASEAN countries, is clearly demonstrated.

So as they say, "life goes on". The world has become multi-polar.

But, notwithstanding anything, the essential key elements for us have not changed.

We are neighbours. And we actually can not actually physically escape each other. Time has shown that attempts to build certain "walls" lead nowhere. That is why I am deeply convinced that we have no alternatives except for systematic cooperation, except for dialogue and coming to a revised cooperation formula. This would allow us to finally arrive at a common economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

It might seem paradoxical, but the Eurasian Economic Union is better prepared for this today than it was 3 years ago, and better than Russia was prepared for this 10-15 years ago.

A common market with a population of 175 million is forming. De jure and de facto, this market functions based on WTO regulations and rules, and is becoming more open and understandable for investors.

One may say that in history, there are no givens. They also say that the only thing one may learn from history is that nothing can be learned from it.

But today the situation is quite special. All this is happening during the active life of one generation of political elites. All these are not facts of long-forgotten and long gone history, all this concern ourselves, and in this circumstance lies the hope that something could still be changed.

We must acknowledge that our mutual dependence is not a negative fact, it is a positive fact. For this we need the ECONOMIC COOPERATION STRATEGY.

Today, it is strange and short-sighted to continue to pretend that reality does not change, that the Eurasian project does not exist. I am convinced that direct dialogue between the structures of the Eurasian and European Commissions should be the necessary element of this BIG STRATEGY.

We have prepared a Memorandum describing the basic vision of prospects for cooperation of the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union.

It touches upon the issues of harmonisation of regulatory norms, decreasing barriers in trade, simplifying customs procedures, respect for intellectual property rights. In the end, in our opinion, this interaction must bring us back to the issue of the establishment of a free trade zone.

For the time being, this is our initiative and it is supported by the governments of the Union Member States. We shall hand over this document to our colleagues from the European Commission and we hope for a reaction on their part which could be in the form of an expert round of consultation on the issues which are of interest to us.

My main idea is that Eurasian integration, the Eurasian project is an open door towards cooperation, towards opportunities. Not only in the context of reduced opportunities for using other sites. But most importantly, because this project is of an economic nature. It is devoid of a political element, andfocused on the interests of business , the improvement of regulatory systems and removing barriers.

And this is, my dear colleagues, where our aims and tasks fully meet.

Let me once again congratulate the Association of European Businesses on its 20th anniversary. I wish you success in all your projects.