A debate over Russia’s ties to political forces in the EU degenerated into finger-pointing between various MPs.
More than 30 speakers took the floor during the Strasbourg plenary at the European Parliament earlier this week.
Some had voted against a European Parliament resolution last December, less than two months before the invasion of Ukraine.
The resolution demanded that Russia withdraw its forces from Ukrainian borders and express its support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Opponents of this resolution largely belonged to far-left and far-right parties.
Among them were Dutch far-right Marcel De Graaff, Slovakian Milan Uhrik, Italy’s Francesca Donato, Greece’s Lefteris Nikolaou-Alavanos and left-wing Irish MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, as well as France’s Manon Aubry.
All spoke in plenary, with some denying any connection to Russian President Vladimir Putin, while others chastised the European Union and NATO for their bellicose propaganda.
“I would like to ask you to produce any evidence that I or my colleague supported Putin in any way,” said leftist Irish MEP Daly.
His challenge came to Poland’s centre-right Radosław Sikorski, who had previously accused the left of pro-Putin sentiments.
“I hope you remember how the Russian church justified launching this invasion. That the people of Donbass must be protected from gay parades,” Sikorski said.
Irish leftist Wallace said Wednesday’s debate was a show of EU authoritarianism, noting that diplomacy must be used to resolve the war in Ukraine.
Dutch far-right de Graaff and Italy’s Francesca Donato made similar arguments, saying the EU, not Russia, was undermining democracy.
But the French left Aubry drew the line, criticizing people for equating his party with the far right.
She accused French liberal MEP Nathalie Loiseau of “arming” the issue by linking the two camps.
“It’s the far right in Austria and Germany that have close ties to Putin, as does the National Rally Party in France,” she said.
Loiseau had previously accused far-left French leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon of repeating Putin’s propaganda before the war in Ukraine.
She also directed her anger at French far-right Thierry Mariani, a pro-Kremlin MEP, who had endorsed a fake election in Russia’s Ukraine territories.
No Russian links here
The melee continued among Italian, Spanish and Swedish MEPs, who all sought to show how their national counterparts had grown closer to the Kremlin regime.
Italian center-left Pierfrancesco Majorino said Italy’s far-right leader Matteo Salvini recently visited Moscow as part of a Kremlin-funded trip.
“Matteo Salvini tried to create a channel of discussion with Putin behind the back of the Draghi government in Italy,” he said.
But Marco Dreosto of Salvini’s far-right League hit back, saying it was Italy’s Democratic Socialist Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement that voted in favor of the pro-Russian proposals.
Spaniards also took turns, including Spanish liberal Jordi Canas, who accused Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont of working with Putin to undermine the rule of law in Spain.
Charlie Weimers, a conservative MEP for the far-right Swedish Democrats, said his party “was one of the most anti-Putin parties in all of Europe”.
But Evin Incir, a Swedish Socialist MEP, countered by saying that Sweden’s Democrats have direct ties to the Russian oligarchs.
“It’s not enough to say you vote a certain way. You also have to cut that umbilical cord,” she said of Sweden’s Democrats.
Other conservative MEPs criticized Germany’s ambiguous stance on Russia, as well as France’s failed attempts to negotiate with Putin.
A serious problem
“We can sum up this debate in one sentence. We have a serious problem in Europe,” said European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová.
Jourová noted that two EU proposals would help increase the transparency of political advertising, as well as revise the funding rules for European political parties.
The overhaul of political party funding aims to ban donations from non-EU countries.
She also cited a new “EU toolbox” to combat manipulation and interference with foreign information.
Mikulas Bek, speaking on behalf of the Czech EU Presidency, said he had made this issue a top priority.
“Any interference in our political processes is unacceptable,” he said, referring to the 2024 European Parliament elections.