The Russian (Lobbyist) Invasion of Brussels

Below is a translation of an interesting article by Marlena Mistrzak published in the Polish magazine Wprost Weekly, which takes a look at the proliferation of fancy soirees in Brussels hosted by representatives sent from Moscow, and the delicate art of influence peddling in the European Union.  What was once the decadence of only Washington


Moscovites in Brussels
By Marlena Mistrzak
Source: Wprost weekly, 17th of January 2010, p. 26

Russia is not a member of the European Union and probably won’t become one for a very long time. Nevertheless you can find its defenders everywhere in Brussels. Polish MEPs (from both PiS [Law and Justice] and PO [Civic Platform] parties) agree that Moscow has exceptional influence, which they jointly try to fight off.

Russians in Brussels enjoy hosting parties, which Polish politiciansfind „suspicious”. They send invitations wherever they can, hoping thatsomeone unsuspecting will show up giving the event their face and name.”Not too long ago a meeting on EU-Russia relations was held inBrussels. I was shocked when I realised that according to the programmeI was suppose to be one of the speakers. My assistant didn’t evenconfirm my presence. The event was organised by Lukoil” says RyszardCzarnecki, MEP from PiS party. His colleague Paweł Kowal confirms theexceptional activity of Russian Embassy’s employees’ in European socialcircles. “In my opinion exactly those Russian agents of influence weretrying to block Mikhail Saakashvili’s speech in EP during Caucasiancrisis” – recalls Adam Bielan (PiS). People are whispering aboutRussian intelligence’s in EP corridors. Jacek Sarysz-Wolski (PO),former Chairman of Committee of Foreign Affairs, also talks aboutRussian influences in Brussels.

He admits that the officialrepresentatives of Russian lobby tried to negotiate with him.Representatives of Gazprom lobby for Russia in the Parliament. Whileleading the Committee I’ve met with their representatives a couple oftimes, including the time I’ve met Dimitry Medvedev (he was member ofthe Board of Gazprom at the time) – recalls Saryusz-Wolski.

Official lobbying is one thing, the other are Russian sympathies ofMEPs themselves. The group voicing Russia’s opinions includes some ofItalians (close relations between Putin and Berlusconi are no secret toanyone), Bulgarian communists and Germans. Even though the pro-Russiansympathies of socialists from SPD is far from surprising (formerChancellor Gerhard Schroeder was the head of Board of Directors of NordStream consortium, which remains controlled by the Russians), similarapproach from CDU representatives aren’t this clear. The most activeRussian supporter now is MEP Elmer Brok. Recently his attitude madeEurope’s main defender against Russia Lithuanian Vytautas Landsbergisso angry, that he threatened to leave EPP, of which he and Brok areboth members.

When EP voted on Marcin Libicki’s (PiS) report discussing ecologicalthreats connected to the construction of Nord Stream pipeline on thebed of Baltic Sea, unusual number of journalists gathered at theentrance. They all asked almost everyone entering the Parliament(including Saryusz-Wolski) one question: “Are you a representative ofGazprom?” Libicki himself recalls visits of high level Gazpromrepresentatives. Among people trying to convince him to change his mindwas Dariusz Szymczycha, years earlier a Minister at the Chancellery ofthe President. Today Szymczycha denies this – Mr Libicki should recallcircumstances we met in more precisely. I wasn’t representing anyinstitution while talking to him. The firm I work for was neverco-operating with Gazprom – he assures in a comment for Wprost.Nonetheless, he doesn’t say what his meeting with Libicki was about.

Also when Committee of Petitions debated the report many of the MEPs(British, German, Italian and even Lithuanian) showed signs of sympathyfor Russians. British MEP Diana Wallis and Italian Salvatore Tatarellatogether with Elmer Brok flooded the Committee with almost a hundred ofamendments, trying to change the report. “They were obviously playingfor the Russians. They did everything possible to diminish theecological problems stressed in the report” – argues Ryszard Czarnecki.”Brok used ridiculous arguments. For example he tried to prove thatconstructing the pipeline at the bed of Balic Sea would be much lessharmful than building it in beautiful landscape of Mazury [lake countryin the North-East of Poland]. It was an absurd, because Mazury neverwere considered an alternative for this project. The way Brok wastrying to convince the committee was clearly a demagogy – Libicki tellsWprost. In spite of everything they didn’t succeed this time – thereport was approved with no changes.

Establishing the Euronest – parliamentary assembly of the EasternPartnership’s countries and the European Parliament created by JacekSaryusz-Wolski was the other success of the Polish. However, also inthis case some scandals happened. Czarnecki said: “During thesubsequent meeting, at which the legal frames of the Euronest werecreated, Bulgarian chairman, Cristian Vegenin, presented a finisheddocument. Absolutely different from the one previously outvoted. Theprovision guarantying the presence of Russian observers during theEuronest’s session was included in it”. If such version of the statutehad been accepted, the Euronest would not have been the tool of EU’spolicy but – according to Czarnecki’s words – a square peg in a roundhole. Participants of the sessions such as deputies from Azerbaijan,Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia or Georgia could have feltinsecure, if not frightened. The objection of the Polish broughteffects and soon the former draft of the document was restored. Anyway,it was not the first attempt to sabotage the Euronest.

Before Velegyn was chosen for a chairman, the Bulgarian – EvgenyKirilov chief of the Bulgarian delegation to EP – had been a candidatefor that position. However, it turned out that he was a former KGBagent.

There are also deputies in EP who straightforwardly admit to their proRussian attitude. A representative of Russian minority in Latvia -Tatiana Zdanoka – is one of them. Zdanoka, who is of Russian descent,participates in the works of the Committee on Parliamentary Cooperationof EU with Moldova, which is still considered by Russia part of itssphere of influence. She is also an active member of the Euronest – theinstitution which Russia is very interested in. German socialist – KnutFleckenstein – also has connections with the Russians. He has beenclose to the natural gas industry for a long time. This termFleckenstein became a chairman of the EU – Russia delegation. A memberof the delegation Marek Migalski (PiS) said: “He acts so languidly asif he was on Italian strike. In his CV I found information that in theseventies he was a frequent guest in the USSR as a representative ofthe one of the German oil company”. Therefore, Polish MEPs did theirbest to prevent person so closely related to Russia from acquiring thechairman’s position in EU’s agency for relations with Moscow. Migalskitogether with Sławomir Nitras (PO) consistently inquired about hisrelations with Russia. But Fleckenstein gave unclear and evasiveanswers. Nitras also reminds that when the issue of supportingMemorial’s (Russian organization protecting human rights, the membersof which include Sergey Kovalev and Lyudmila Alekseeva among others)candidacy for Sakharov Award came up during delegation proceedings,Fleckenstein had strong objections. Miglaski suggests that the bestsolution is to dismiss Fleckenstein from his current position, but itwould not be easy considering the pacts existing among EP fractions.

When Poland was entering EU’s structures, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski summedup the relations of EU with Russia and other post-Soviet countriessaying: “Russia first”. Nowadays he does not want to come back to thesewords, but admits that there is still a lot to do. Paweł Kowalcommented: “There is nothing wrong with lobbying itself, even Russianone. As long as we succeed to create a counterbalance to it.” And itseems that if the Polish do not build that counterbalance in Brussels,no one will.