European Industry Wants Improved Cooperation With Russia

Important sections of European industry are breaking with the anti-Russian policy of the European Union. On Jan. 26, a delegation of the largest Italian corporations met Russian President Vladimir Putin in a videoconference, and on Jan. 27 it was made known that a similar meeting is being organized by German companies.

The Jan. 26 meeting was organized by the Italy-Russia Chamber of Commerce, whose President Vincenzo Trani released a note saying that it has never been more fundamental than in the current historical period, “to intensify the economic-entrepreneurial dialogue between Italy and Russia”.He said he believes the debate must be open, “leaving aside political rhetoric, in order to jointly seize the opportunities that a promising but still uncertain economic recovery can offer, involving the highest possible number of national actors and Russian partners.”

Italian entrepreneurs, on a video connection with Moscow from Milan and Rome, were able to ask questions, present problems and doubts, and even propose solutions directly to Vladimir Putin, according to the Chamber. The Russian President was accompanied by eight government ministers (including of Agriculture and Economic development), testifying to the consideration the government gives to the more than 500 Italian-owned companies operating in the country.

Putin, while underscoring the importance of economic relations between Italy and Russia in many industrial areas, pointed out Italy is now receiving Russian natural gas at prices way below market prices, thanks to long-term contracts. No less than 41% of Italy’s energy mix comes from natural gas, 45% of which comes from Russia.

Top managers of German business are planning a similar videoconference with Vladimir Putin. The virtual meeting is to be organized by the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, comprised companies (including giants like Allianz, SAP, Siemens, VW, BASF, etc. and many SMEs) that altogether employ a total of 280,000 people in Russia. The Committee says it is aiming for an event on March 3, but the date could still change.

For the moment, participation is still being organized. The names of attendees are generally not made public, but those invited reportedly include directors of Bayer, Bilfinger (construction), Herrenknecht (tunnel contractor), Tönnies (a slaughterhouse and meat processor), and Uniper (energy). Others potential participants are the Volkswagen group, agricultural equipment manufacturer Claas, building materials producer Knauf, automotive supplier Schäffler and mechanical engineering company DMG Mori.

Germany and Italy are the number one and two largest manufacturing countries in Europe; however, the German corporate presence in Russia is much larger, with ca. 4000 firms.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported that the European Commission had exerted pressures on the Italian government to convince companies not to participate in the Jan. 26 meeting. However, only two of the invited participants declined. One of the two is energy giant ENI, which is partially owned by the government.

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