An interesting power struggle may be developing between current High Representative Catherine Ashton and the current Spanish rotating presidencies of the European Union and the Western European Union. It is possible that Catherine Ashton's old allegedly Communist ties will enter before it is over. She has announced that she is exploring visa free travel between Russia and the European Union.
Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, announced last month that the EU would start a process to ultimately lift visa requirements. But similar attempts have yielded few results in the past, mainly because of technical difficulties and fears among EU members of a mass influx of refugees.
Migration rules are stringent on both sides, although Russians must undergo interviews and demonstrate that they have sufficient funds for travel before obtaining visas to the EU’s border-free Schengen zone. Europeans wishing to travel to Russia are spared those procedures but face stiff bureaucracy, having to register and deregister if they spend three or more working days at any place in the country.
Asked if registration rules might be eased during visa negotiations, Lavrov denied that the rules posed a bureaucratic burden.
“There is no registration requirement. There is a notification requirement that involves no permits. You fill out a simple form and send it stamped by post to the nearest migration service office. … If you stay in a hotel, you do not have to do anything," he said.
Yet the registration process, which is the bane of foreign visitors, has been further complicated with the introduction of a fee in late January. A registration now costs 2 rubles for each day of the visit, with a ceiling at 200 rubles ($6.50). “You must present a receipt from Sberbank showing that you have paid the fee," said Alexei Filipenkov of the Visa Delight agency.
Ashton has faced a series of challenges since assuming her job in December, when the Lisbon Treaty amalgamated the jobs of high representative (formerly Javier Solana) and external relations commissioner (formerly Benita Ferrero-Waldner).
Brussels has been awash with reports about doubts on whether the comparably unknown British Labour politician, who served as EU trade commissioner for just a year, has enough international experience for the job.
Questions have also been raised on the rotating presidency’s future role in foreign policy, and critics have said Spain stole the limelight from the high representative’s first weeks in office.
But Ashton was adamant Wednesday that she was the sole person in charge, having also assumed external policy obligations formerly held by the rotating presidency.
“The Lisbon Treaty is clear about my post. … The presidency will not disappear, but the responsibility [for foreign policy] will be in my office,” she said.
She added that no top Spanish government officials would attend the next EU-Russia summit, which is scheduled to be held in Rostov-on-Don in May
I rather suspect that the European Union officials who have been jealously guarding their past prerogatives will not react kindly to this. I further suspect that Javier Solana or one of his designees might well be a beneficiary of actions taken as a result of their anger.