The EU's G8 Agenda: Africa and Energy

European Union plans to use its G8 seat to advance discussion of energy security and third world aid over talk of Russia and human rights

The EU made clear on Tuesday (11 July) it will use its G8 seat to push for energy security and third world aid, while leaving questions of Russian democracy and human rights aside.

"I've met with [Russian president] Mr Putin eight times and I have discussed human rights issues with him in a frank and open manner, but now my plan is to focus more on energy and development issues," European Commisison head Jose Barroso said.

The Russian G8 presidency has already drafted three main statements for the US, Russian, UK, German, Italian, French, Canadian, Japanese and EU leaders to sign between 15 to 17 July, with commission officials pleased with the results.

The energy statement is set to see promises to play by the same rules on transparency and access to each others' oil, gas and nuclear energy markets. But any text will not be legally binding or go into details on bilateral issues, such as the Russia-Ukraine dispute.

"At the G8 level there has not so far been any commitment to a level playing field or reciprocity of access [on energy]," Mr Barroso said. "These [the G8 states] are perhaps the most important countries in terms of the influence they hold in the world."

He admitted EU member states are "extremely divided" on energy issues however - such as on the benefits of nuclear power - raising the risk that non-G8 EU members might say any St Petersburg deal was made over their heads.

New Africa fund

The other two statements will see pledges to work together on global education and the fight against infectious diseases, with a promise not to take unilateral action like sealing borders without "prior consultation" of G8 partners.

The commission chief also launched on Tuesday plans for a new €3 billion aid fund for good governance in Africa, which will in future see African states submit good governance plans in retrun for EU cash.

"We must keep development at the centre of global concerns," Mr Barroso stated, with a commission official reporting that Russia wanted to scrap development from the agenda because it had been "done" at the 2005 G8 summit.

The education and disease statements will focus on European concerns such as education for the sake of racial integration, education for the sake of competitiveness and bird flu pandemic plans, the commission expert explained.

Barroso's Russian diplomacy

Meanwhile, Mr Barroso showed no sign that he would be the one to disturb the fourth big statement of the event - Russia's demonstration that it is back on the world stage as a modern superpower on an equal footing with its G8 peers.

When quizzed by press about Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya he took the same line as Russian diplomats take on the subject, saying "no one is perfect" and pointing to the fact that there are human rights problems in the EU and US also.

Sensitive issues such as Russia's role in Chechnya, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova or the repression of foreign NGOs, free press and political opponents in Russia are being raised at an "alternative G8 summit" in Moscow this week.

But at the official summit, they will be relegated to the leaders' private chats over lunch and dinner on Sunday, with EU officials pleading that "this is the best format for informal, off-the-script talks."

The Georgia test

An insight into EU thinking on Russia was offered in a small incident last month, when Georgian conflict resolution minister Giorgi Khaindrava asked Brussels to send border monitors to observe Russian troop activity in its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

"One of [EU foreign affairs chief] Solana's senior advisors, I won't tell you whom so as not to embarass him, said this is out of the question because Russia is a strategic partner of the EU and Georgia is not," an EU diplomat told EUobserver.

Russia is the poorest G8 member by a long chalk, but supplies a quarter of the EU's oil and gas with EU imports set to mushroom in the next 25 years.

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