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Geopolitics: Ukraine, Russia, EU and the West
Who Holds the Levers to Ukraine’s European Integration in Brussels?
This blog identifies the past and current intersecting forces of either Ukraine-friendly, Ukraine-sceptic and Ukraine-hostile structures and individuals within and around EU institutions in Brussels and how they seek to exert their influence on EU’s policy towards Ukraine.
Despite the fact that the Council and the EU Member States themselves hold the levers of power and have a final say in the EU Foreign Policy decision-making process, there are many other actors, which are working on a daily basis to influence the lawmakers based in Brussels. An estimated number of 15.000 to 30.000 different lobbying organisations operates in the city.
Who are these groups/individuals and how are they organised? What is the motivation behind their activities?
Pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian lobbying actors in Brussels are engaged into a dialogue with the policy makers in order to influence, persuade or change their opinion. These two groups are lobbying against each other.
These actors of influence are operating at different levels, starting with Embassies, Permanent Missions to the European Union, Permanent Missions to NATO, as well as business and industry representatives, down to consultancies or even single individuals. NGOs, think tanks, and civil society representatives are also important actors. Their targets are EU Parliamentary Deputies (MEPs), EU civil servants, academics, media and European citizens. Unfortunately, Ukrainian and Russian interests in Brussels were and still are represented in a very disproportionate way. Due to financial reasons and to the mainly pro-Russian government of Yanukovych’s regime, there was never a strong permanent lobbying base for the interests of Ukrainian people in Brussels.
For example, during Yanukovych’s era, in December 2011, “a non-governmental organisation, not funded by any political party or state institution in Ukraine” was created in Brussels. The European Centre for Modern Ukraine claimed it was “operating internationally as an advocate for enhancing EU-Ukraine relations.” However, from the beginning, this Centre had mainly served to promote the interests of Ukraine’s government and the oligarchic clans of the ruling Party of Regions.
According to the statutory documents of the European Centre three of the five founding members appeared to be prominent members of the Party of Regions, namely Leonid Kozhara, Vitaliy Kahlyushnyy and Yevgenii Giellier. After they received high government positions, they were obliged to stand down from the Centre. They were replaced by fellow Regions members, Oleksiy Plotnikov and Oleg Nadosha, thus ensuring the continuous presence of the party within the organisation. The annual budget of the Centre declared on the EU transparency register accounted for €10,000. This rather modest amount could not cover expenses needed to run an office located in the heart of the EU district, as well as the salaries of several employees. The Centre was spotted on the web page of the US-based research group Center for Responsive Politics as a lobbying client, for an amount of 1.9 million US dollars in 2012-2013. According to recent publications in Ukrainian media, this money was linked to Andrey Klyuyev, former Head of the Presidential Administration. After Yanukovych fled Ukraine, the financial channels where cut and a few weeks after, the organisation’s plate had disappeared from the building.
In 2013, another political party, Svoboda, sent Anatoli Osuhovsky to represent the party’s interests in Brussels. Osuhovsky is the brother of Oleg Osuhovsky, elected to the Verhovna Rada in 2012. Looking for allies in Europe, Svoboda compromised itself by trying to establish ties with a Belgian far-right party. Many in Brussels found suspicious that its office was situated in the same building as the above-mentioned Party of the Regions’ lobbyists.
Thanks to Maidan, the Ukrainian lobbying activities in Brussels are getting up to speed now. The Ukrainian diplomatic service is noticeably more open and cooperative with the civil society and more visible in the Brussels bubble. In Belgium, for example, Maidan led to the election of new heads of NGOs, established by the Ukrainian diaspora in order to make them more efficient and prompted the creation of new ones.
The Ukrainian community in Belgium is active, although it has a limited budget, which cannot be said for the Russian side.
The Russian Federation uses a special agency, “Rossotrudnichestvo,” to “exercise a soft power” abroad, using technologies and methods alternative to traditional diplomacy. The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation was created by President Medvedev in 2008 and managed by the MFA. Since 2014, the agency decided to involve in a more active way its compatriots residing abroad, and these “agents of influence” are often seen in Brussels. The head of this organisation, Konstantin Kosachev, said that the annual spending on the activities of Russians abroad accounts for 2,5 billion roubles. The budget is planned to increase to 6 billion roubles by 2016, Russia considering this a long-term investment strategy.
Whom do these groups target?
The European Parliament is the EU institution that draws a lot of attention from lobbyists.
First, because it has 751 Members from 28 EU Member States, who are connected with and have influence on their local Parliaments and on their electorate, which accounts for 500 million people in total. Second, the lobbyists identify and target the swing voters, as they can break the majority and change the legislation or decision. The European Parliament shares legislative and budgetary powers with the Council and has an impact on EU policies towards Ukraine.
The European Parliament, for example, had to ratify the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement to allow the next implementation stage. 535 (77%) MEPs voted for Ukraine’s closer integration with EU with, while 127 (18%) opposed it and 35 (5%) abstained.
On October 24, 2014, the Member of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted by 497 votes to 78, with 56 abstentions, to implement the Commission’s proposal and prolonged the (ATM) Autonomous Trade Measures, granting Ukraine’s exports a largely duty-free access to the EU market until the end of 2015. Earlier, on 7 October, the EP wanted to use the accelerated legislative procedure of approval to extend ATM to avoid any delays, but MEP Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, with Franz Obermayr (MEP Austria) and Matteo Salvini (MEP Italy), formed the blocking minority at the Committee on Trade and voted against it.
The other reason for the intense lobbying of the MEPs, especially by the pro-Russian forces, is that MEPs enjoy relative freedom in expressing openly their views. This freedom allows some of them to transform from targets into actors. Their anti-Ukrainian position is not a result of pro-Russian lobbyists in Brussels. They come to power already with formed interests and use their position to implement their objectives. It makes no sense for Ukrainian interest groups to approach them, although it is important to have them identified, as they act themselves as lobbyists for Russian interests. On 16 March 2014, Latvian MEP Tatjana Zdanoka, Austrian MEP Ewald Stadler and Hungarian MEP Béla Kovács, contrary to the European Parliament and the democratic world’s common position on the illegitimacy of the Crimea referendum, went to observe the elections and stated it was free and fair. They were joined by representatives of international far-right parties, including the Belgian Vlaams Belang.
The French MEP Marine Le Pen has close ties with Moscow. In June 2013 she visited Russia to discuss matters of common concern with State Duma leader Sergei Naryshkin and with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.
German MEP Gabriele Zimmer, a president of the GUE/NGL Group, for example, promotes the interests of the Ukrainian Communist Party.
On 14 October 2014, jointly with other party members Miloslav Ransdorf, Georgios Katrougkalos and Sabine Lösing, Ms Zimmer organised a hearing and a press conference in the European Parliament. Their guests were Vilkul Oleksandr, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, representative of the Party of Regions and Petro Symonenko, head of the Communist Party. The latter spoke about the outrageous level of corruption in Ukraine, while, at the same time, his colleagues in the Ukrainian Parliament were adopting an anti-corruption strategy legislation, a law on disclosure of information on end beneficiaries and a reform of the prosecutor's office. A similar visit for Mr Symonenko was facilitated by Ms Zimmer on 2 April 2014.
Apart from MEPs, the EP staff that works on Ukraine is an important target for lobbying. The President of the European Parliament, each political party, as well as each political group in the Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, has an adviser on Ukraine. They accompany MEPs on missions to Ukraine, monitor and report on a daily basis to MEPs about the developments in Ukraine, sometimes contribute to drafting the EP resolutions, write speeches and organise high officials’ visits to Brussels or Strasbourg. Arnoldas Pranckevičius, the EP President’s adviser on Ukraine, is an active supporter of the Ukrainian struggle for democracy. He was also part of the special EP envoy together with Mr Pat Cox and Mr Aleksander Kwasniewski.
The European External Action Service (EEAS) is an influential institution as it ensures coordination and consistency of the EU’s external policy, including the one on Ukraine. This institution, though, is mostly immune to Russian disinformation.
The Ukrainian forces need to identify the structure and to single out the officials, responsible for Ukraine within this institution, which is not an easy task for the external eye.
On the top level, Ukraine is being handled by Catherine Ashton, who will pass her duty to Federica Mogherini on 1 November 2014, by the Corporate Board, headed by the Executive Secretary General Pierre Vimont and by David O'Sullivan, the chief operating officer of the European Union's diplomatic corps.
Within the the European External Action Service (EEAS), the quasi-Foreign Ministry department of the EU, there are five large directorates, who report to the board. Ukraine is included into the Europe and Central Asia directorate. Within it, there are currently two departments, which are particularly involved with Ukraine— the Geographical Department and the Crisis Management Department, although other services are also involved. Maidan and the crisis between Russia and Ukraine not only caused an increase in the general interest and level of expertise there, but also brought quantitative changes, as there are now 7 officials working only on Ukraine.
The great amount of attention within the European Commission led to a newly created Support Group for Ukraine. The objective of this special group is to help Ukraine with the implementation of the Association Agreement as opposed to the monitoring of its implementation. This group is now operational, although not to its full capacity. The recruitment process is still ongoing, with the objective to reach 35 to 50 members, which will work only on Ukrainian topics. The Group is headed by Peter Balas, a Hungarian, an expert in trade policy with a strong academic background. The staff of the Support Group is located in the European Commission and is currently administratively attached to the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation.
Through which means do lobbyists interact with the EU structures?
There are different means that lobbyists use to exert their influence on lawmakers. The first are means of communications, like phone calls, letters, emails, conferences, hearings or tête-a-tête meetings.
Conferences organised by pro-Russian groups often do not include a question and answers session at the end. These means of communication are used only to deliver a clear message, prepared in advance rather than to provoke a debate. For example, on 9 July 2014, Tatiana Zdanok, a Latvian MEP, organised a hearing, titled “Witnesses of the Odessa massacre.” She tried to avoid questions and it is only thanks to pressure from MEP Rebecca Harms and the Ukrainian participants, that the media and the conference room heard an alternative point of view on the events in Odessa.
Another way to create an impact is through indirect lobbying, through media for example. It will be less of a shock to see an article with a “friendly” attitude towards Russia, if we know that Russia makes deals with lobbying agencies. The Kremlin had a multiyear contract with the PR agency Ketchum, that was generously paid for “improving Russia’s image through foreign media.” The agency, according to released data, received more than 29 million dollars from 2006 to 2014.
The lobbyist are aware that the attitude towards Ukraine can be also somehow forecast by the members’ affiliation to a certain political party. Although many of them are divided, Ukraine’s strongest ally is the largest party, the European People’s Party (EPP), a group of Christian Democratic and Conservative orientation.. The second largest group, Socialist and Democrats, used to have close ties with the Party of the Regions. On 14 October 2010, they signed the Memorandum of Co-operation “to strengthen Ukraine's integration process towards the European Union.”
Ukraine-hostile MEPs are commonly members of far-right parties.
Based on my personal observations, published information, classified documents and interviews conducted during my life in Brussels, in the last four years I can conclude that the pro-Russian lobbying is more active and spread within and around EU Institutions than the pro-Ukrainian. They have a more important budget, clear guidelines from the Russian government, and with a far greater access to information resources. Despite these advantages, Russian forces operate mostly with disinformation or bribery and don’t have as great impact as they would wish. In order to increase its influence within EU and to gain a better negotiating position, Ukraine and its representatives should concentrate their efforts on improving their network of personal contacts within EU institutions.