Who votes "pro-Russia" in the EU parliament and how
European Parliament and Russia
Some MEPs consistently refuse to support resolutions against the war in Ukraine, as reported by Russian publication Novaya Gazeta-Europe in a new study of ties to Russia in the EU.
Even in the European Parliament deputies loyal to Moscow may publicly take pro-Russian positions at meetings. They also lobby the interests of the Kremlin behind the scenes.
Relationships via shell NGOs or bribery
Moscow, like many other authoritarian regimes, has long been trying to build “special relations” with parliamentarians. For this primarily two methods are used:
Negotiate through dummy NGOs and bring them in as “international observers” to illegal or rigged elections.
For example, in 2018, six MEPs – Thierry Mariani, Herve Juvin, Jean-Lin Lacapelle, Miroslav Radachovsky, Nicholas Bay and Gunnar Beck – were blacklisted for their participation as observers in the parliamentary elections in Russia and the occupied Crimea, in a referendum on amendments to Constitution and presidential elections.
By the end of this convocation in 2024, they will no longer be able to work in official election observation missions of the European Parliament.
Direct bribes so that politicians lobby for decisions favoring such nations or publicly broadcast the latter’s agenda.
For example, at the end of 2022 the Vice President of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili, was detained on suspicion of corruption in favor of Qatar.
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Russia’s task to achieve a split in the European Parliament
It is not always possible to separate an MEP’s personal ideology, especially among far-right and Euroskeptic parties, from direct ties between a parliamentarian and the Kremlin.
But such motivation begins to emerge if you look not at single votes but at the actions of deputies over several years, including before the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Novaya Gazeta-Europe studied an array of data on voting in the European Parliament over the past four years and was able to identify several patterns in how MEPs behave.
The powers of the current convocation of the European Parliament began in 2019. From that moment to January 2023, MEPs have voted on 22 resolutions that dealt with the Kremlin’s human rights violations, the war in Ukraine, or anti-Russian sanctions.
Resolutions were adopted in 2019 and 2020, seven in 2021, twelve in 2022, and one has already been voted on in January 2023:
- Resolutions related to the poisoning of politician Alexei Navalny (2020).
- The so-called European Magnitsky Act, an analogue of the American law of 2012, condemning the constant violation of human rights in Russia (2021), has been adopted.
- The first resolution concerning war crimes of the Wagner PMC (2021).
- The deputies condemned the recognition of several European and American public organizations as undesirable in Russia at once and the detention of opposition politician Andrei Pivovarov (2021).
- A resolution was adopted by a majority vote demanding that Russia be recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism (2022).
- Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 10 of 12 resolutions adopted in 2022 dealt with that war and its aftermath.
- In January 2023, deputies voted for the creation of a tribunal to investigate the crimes of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Too many people voting against or not voting on resolutions on Russia
Of 705 deputies of the European Parliament, on average, 531 or 75% supported anti-Russian resolutions. A little more than 40 or 6% voted against, also on average, and the same number chose to abstain.
In addition to choosing one of these three options, a member of parliament can simply not participate in the vote — either by not appearing at the meeting, or by “not pressing the button” on a specific issue and thereby not showing his position.
In voting on any topic in 2019-2022, only 4.3% of MEPs did not vote in this way. But the share of non-voters on anti-Russian resolutions is three times higher than this average at 12.5%.
Top 10 “pro-Putin” parties in the European Parliament
According to Novaya Gazeta-Europe, in the current convocation of the European Parliament against anti-Putin resolutions, parties that take populist and more radical positions in the EU are more likely to vote than others.
Top 10 “pro-Putin” parties in the European Parliament according to deputy votes:
- Communist Party of Portugal – 84%.
- The Communist Party of Greece – 82%.
- French “National Assembly” – 77%.
- German “Alternative for Germany” – 70%.
- Freedom and Direct Democracy (Czech Republic) – 70%.
- Austrian Freedom Party – 69%.
- “Left” (Die Linke, Germany) – 56%.
- SYRIZA (Greece) – 39%.
- Liga (Italy) – 11%.
- “Law and Justice” (PiS, Poland) – 11%.
The most useful for the Kremlin are the French “National Assembly” and the German “Alternative for Germany”. Together they have 28 seats in the European Parliament, and their deputies often vote against anti-Russian resolutions.
Small parties that vote “no” to anti-Russian resolutions are also very useful to Moscow. Only two or three votes come from them, and they cannot affect the final decision in any way. But they give the Russian state media the opportunity to declare a lack of unity in the European ranks.
The most cautious among the “pro-Putin” votes are the MEPs from the ultra-left Greek SYRIZA and the far-right “Austrian Freedom Party”. Members of these parties rarely vote openly “against” anti-Russian resolutions, but in many cases abstain from voting.
The champions in terms of the number of those who abstained from voting on anti-Russian resolutions are MEPs from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland.
Each of the 24 representatives of this party in the European Parliament in 2019-2022 at least once chose to “abstain”, but at the same time, no one has ever voted explicitly “against”.
It should be noted that after the start of the war in Ukraine, there were no such “failures” at PiS, whose leadership takes an extremely tough stance towards Moscow.
On specific Putin supporters in the European Parliament
More often than not, MEPs who might be suspected of sympathizing with the Kremlin do not stick to any one tactic on anti-Russian resolutions, but combine votes against, abstention, or even voting for.
So that these various strategies are not misleading, New Europe compiled a final rating of MEPs whose votes were somehow cast in defense of Moscow’s interests.
- The rating was headed by Tatyana Zhdanok, a deputy from the Russian Union of Latvia known for her frank pro-Russian position: she did not support 20 of the 22 resolutions. She cannot be elected to the Latvian Saeima or city parliaments due to her work in the Latvian Communist Party after 1991. However, this does not prevent her from being regularly elected to the European Parliament since 2004.
- Another publicly known supporter of the Kremlin, Gunnar Beck of the AfD, did not support 18 of the 22 resolutions related to Russia and the war in Ukraine. Like Zhdanok, Beck does not hide his pro-Putin views. In September 2021, he became an observer in the Russian elections to the State Duma. “I came to Russia without prejudice. So far, I see that the elections are well organized,” he said in a conversation with Izvestia.
According to Russian independent media, he visited Russia at the invitation of State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin. The State Duma paid for his flight to Moscow and accommodation at the Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel.
- Among the main radicals is Marcel de Graaf, an MEP from the Dutch Eurosceptic Freedom Party. He methodically voted against all 20 “control” resolutions, as well as against 16 of the 22 anti-Russian documents, and did not attend meetings the rest of the time.
- The same radicals include the Czech Ivan David, the already mentioned Greeks Kostantinos Papadakis and Lefteris Nikolaou-Alavanos, as well as the representative of Slovakia, Milan Ugrik. These deputies also opposed most of the “control” resolutions. All four represent small populist parties whose influence on politics at the national level is extremely limited.
New Europe sent 43 requests to European deputies, who most often did not support anti-Russian resolutions. By the time this text was published, only two replies had been received. One of them was given by the deputy from Slovakia, Milan Ugrik.
“I cannot support those European Parliament resolutions that condemn [only] one side, [but at the same time] their authors remain blind to the bloodier events committed by Western countries or their allies. The only thing I want and stand for is just a fair [equal] treatment of everyone,” says Ugrik.
“I will never walk in a crowd,” another MEP, Miroslav Radacovski, representing the Slovak Patriot party, said in response to a request. When additionally asked whether he believes that the Wagner group did not commit human rights violations, he replied that he did not really understand the issue when he voted.
“There are ideological forces in the European Parliament that are opposed to the freedom of Ukraine and the fundamental principles of Europe,” Rafael Glucksmann, deputy and chairman of the European Parliament’s special committee on foreign interference, which, among other things, assesses the influence of the Kremlin on EU policy, told New Europe.
Glucksman believes that the deputies discovered by New Europe who most often vote in the interests of the Kremlin are divided into two types: “useful idiots and Putin’s henchmen.”
“The first may be radical deputies who on average always vote against the European mainstream. The latter are more likely to have a special relationship with Moscow,” says Glucksman.
“Which of them act on the basis of their own convictions, or who because of self-interest, [still] remains to be seen.”
Change of position, or new tactic?
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, several MEPs who voted pro-Russian in 2019-2021 have reconsidered their approach, occasionally beginning to support anti-war resolutions. Nevertheless, statistics show that they use the opportunity to abstain or not attend meetings.
For example, the deputy of the Cypriot Progressive Party of Workers, Yorgos Georgiou, did not support a single anti-Russian resolution before the start of the war.
Georgiou said the resolutions were incomplete because they did not take into account NATO’s eastward expansion “as a destabilizing factor.”
In 2022, he became more likely to abstain, refusing to vote or not come to meetings where such documents were discussed. So far, not a single resolution condemning Russia has been approved by Georgiou.
Several other European deputies have begun to act this way — Jerome Riviere from the French far-right Reconquista party, Frenchmen Gilbert Collar and Jean-Paul Garro, the Greek Ioannis Lagos and a number of other deputies, including representative of the Russian Union of Latvia Tatyana Zhdanok.
A vivid example is Silvio Berlusconi, known for his long-standing friendly relations with Vladimir Putin. Now the former Italian prime minister, and his party members in the Forza Italia party, sit in the European Parliament.
During this convocation, Berlusconi twice voted for anti-Russian resolutions and never once against. But in 15 out of 22 cases, he simply did not appear at meetings which had to do with Russia.
One could say the former Italian prime minister is a truant and rarely attends meetings; in 2019-2022, Berlusconi missed about 30% of parliamentary meetings in general, but he missed more than two-thirds of the meetings on Russia.
It is important, however, to note that among MEPs, the category of those changing positions has begun to grow. Before the start of the war, they voted against the adoption of anti-Russian resolutions, but after February 24 they have supported most of them. These deputies include, for example, Eugenia Rodriguez Palos from the Spanish left-wing Podemos party, Helmut Scholz from the German Left Party, and five deputies from the French National Assembly: Gilles Libreton, Jean-Francois Zhalha, Frans Jamet, Catherine Grisey and Jean-Lin Lacapelle.
All supported most of the resolutions in 2022, voting “no” very rarely.
So far, it is difficult to understand how stable this trend is. A change in voting tactics does not always mean a change in position. Perhaps Moscow’s most staunch supporters have learned to act more cautiously. Or they are now using other opportunities, engaging in pro-Russian lobbying outside the official meetings of the European Parliament.
Text prepared with the support of Mediaset