TALLINN-RIGA - Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini was the bearer of good tidings this week, saying that Italy would press Russia to automatically extend the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to new EU members and that Italy was prepared to act as a mediator between Russia and Latvia.
During a meeting with Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts on March 23, Fini said that the PCA, the document regulating relations between the European Union and Russia, must automatically extend to the 10 countries about to join the 15-nation bloc.
The announcement, made through an Estonian government official, was welcomed in light of Italy's close working relations with Russia. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has on several occasions publicly supported the positions of Russian President Vladimir Putin that are a matter of contention with most EU members.
Also the announcement was heartening after a March 22 interview by Russia's new foreign minister, Vladimir Chizhov, who expressed opposition to automatically extending the 1994 agreement to cover the 10 acceding countries.
Speaking in Latvia prior to continuing his trip to Estonia, Fini said that Italy was also prepared to serve as a mediator between both the EU and Russia, and Russia and Latvia.
"This may be seen as a very noble ambition, but seeing as we are good friends of both subjects, we can be of slight influence," Fini said following a meeting with Latvian PM Indulis Emsis.
He stated in order to promote an EU-Russian dialogue Italy could use "moral persuasion in relations with our friends, the Russians, as there are issues which have to be worked on in-depth." He mentioned the Kyoto protocol as an example.
Emsis said that the Baltic state was interested in good relations with Russia, adding that the issue should be "pushed in a politically clear and economically beneficial direction."
Both Emsis and Fini also noted that the positions of both countries on EU issues were quite close. Italy and Latvia both want the EU constitutional treaty to be approved during the current Irish presidency but before the Europarliament elections in June. Both countries also support the need for one commissioner from each EU member state on the European Commission.
Speaking in Estonia, the Italian deputy prime minister said the sooner the EU constitution was adopted the better for everyone.
"The more time goes by, the more the spirit of the convention for the future of Europe fades away," he said.
Both Fini and Parts said that adoption of the constitutional treaty would eliminate talk about a two-speed Europe.
Parts raised the topic of rapid implementation of the Lisbon process aimed at making Europe more competitive.
"If we say that entrepreneurial spirit is getting scarce in Europe and talk about over-regulation, then this cannot remain just political rhetoric," Parts said.
Fini expressed the opinion that Italian investment in Estonia would grow after May 1.