by RAY FLEMING
TODAY'S long-planned summit meeting in Helsinki between the European Union and Russia has an ambitious agenda but yesterday, as the leaders were arriving, one of the most important items seemed likely to be dropped. The meeting was due to begin talks on a post-2007 Strategic Partnership Treaty but the EU's position was made impossible by Poland's last minute insistence that any treaty must include a “permanent veto mechanism” to allow any EU member to initiate suspension of negotiations at any stage. Poland is proving the most awkward of the squad of ten nations which joined the EU in 2003; it has taken an independent line on several issues where otherwise a consensus had been established. Its latest stance stems from a year-long Russian trade embargo on Polish meat exports which Warsaw believes to be unjustified and discriminatory. The summit will have plenty of other things to discuss, such as Iran, Georgia and human rights, but the Strategic Partnership Treaty was designed to provide an umbrella agreement covering many issues, including energy supplies. Such an overview is necessary because there are still many areas of suspicion and misunderstanding between the two sides. In an article in the Financial Times this week, President Putin made several positive points about relations between Russia and the EU but said that future talks should not “deteriorate into an exchange of complaints” and warned that the two sides “should not try to force artificial standards on each other”.

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