Parliamentary Assembly session : 23 – 27 September 2002 

Helping Kaliningrad will benefit the whole region

In Lara Margret Ragnarsdottir’s view there are technical means of enabling people in the Kaliningrad enclave to travel more easily.

Interview

Question:. Ms Ragnarsdottir, you are an Icelandic MP. On behalf of the Political Affairs Committee you are presenting the report on European Union enlargement and the Kaliningrad region which the Parliamentary Assembly will be debating on Wednesday 25 September. In connection with the report you travelled to Kaliningrad. Can you tell us what your impressions were?

Lara Margret Ragnarsdottir: My first impression from my short visit was that Kaliningrad is comparatively poor. The situation there is not at all what we would wish. Of course it is not the only region in difficulty in Russia and I know that Russia has shown great concern and is trying to push through the necessary reforms. Russia is highly aware of Kaliningrad’s difficulties, particularly as regards transport links with the rest of the country. Russia takes the view that easier movement not only between Kaliningrad and Russia but also to neighbouring countries would be a highly constructive step towards helping the region and enabling it to integrate into Europe as we would like it to.

Question: In your view is the problem of transit through Lithuania and, more generally, of getting abroad an overriding concern of people in Kaliningrad?

Lara Margret Ragnarsdottir: From the meetings and conversations I had there, I very much got the impression of a need for real co-operation, for a special economic zone in the region. Co-operation of that kind could be a very important step towards a better future. Being able to travel would be a unique opportunity for Kaliningrad’s Russians to be part of the new Europe we have seen developing now for more than a decade. The travel issue is more than just a question of being able to travel to the rest of Russia. There is also the problem of obtaining visas to visit neighbouring countries. Any kind of co-operation to ease the problem would be welcome. That is also the feeling I got from my conservations in Lithuania and Warsaw. Poland’s position on Kaliningrad struck me as highly constructive. The Polish view is that any improvement in Kaliningrad’s lot will be of benefit to the whole region.

Question:What can the Council of Europe do to help Kaliningrad?

Lara Margret Ragnarsdottir: The Parliamentary Assembly is the Council of Europe’s instigating and proposal-making body. We can bring pressure to bear on all European countries, not just those in the European Union, bring Kaliningrad’s predicament home to them and get across the message that an enlarged Europe takes in freedom to move around and cross borders. There is nothing new about this. The Council of Europe has been talking about it since 1957. It is something we experience through the Schengen system, which is an excellent arrangement for easy travel. With better-controlled borders, machines able to read passports and all the technology we already have, it should not be difficult to solve the problem of travelling from the Kaliningrad region.