The European Parliament (EP) has taken a much more favourable attitude toward Russia at the same time as the human rights situation in Russia has continued to deteriorate. This is revealed in a February 2013 research paper by the Italian political scientist, Stefano Braghiroli, for the Centre for EU-Russia Studies at the University of Tartu.
Dr Braghiroli’s paper assesses the relative importance of MEPs’ nationality and party group affiliation in determining their voting stance towards Russia and their propensity to vote along national or party group lines when Russia-related issues are at stake. The paper used empirical data on 27 Russia-related votes in the EP in 2004-2012.
The analysis revealed that the voting stance of MEPs on Russia varied greatly across national delegations and party groups, according to geo-territorial, partisan and/or ideological factors. The analysis also suggested that MEPs’ voting stances towards Russia were, to a large extent, determined by their partisan affiliations.
“Despite its allegedly tough position on Russia, the EP’s stance towards Russia can hardly be described as unitary. The views expressed by individual MEPs are often highly divergent,” Dr Braghiroli noted. “The debate on Russia seems to highlight national and party group patterns, but also to cut across traditional alignments in the EP,” he wrote.
When comparing the distribution of votes on Russia according to issue area in the Sixth and the Seventh European Parliament, it is clear that the EP has taken a much greater interest in human rights issues. This is logical, given the wave of popular protests and the ensuing crackdown following Russia’s rigged elections in 2011 and 2012.
However, when comparing the voting stance toward Russia according to the nationality and party group affiliation of MEPs, it is equally clear that the EP’s overall attitude toward Russia has become markedly more acquiescent. Only the Baltic caucus, ALDE, and the Greens seem to have retained a clearly critical look on the situation in Russia.
The change in favour of an uncritical stance toward Russia seems to have been a result of a change in the attitude of the European People’s Party. The EP’s Socialist group has retained its uncritical stance on Russia, despite the worsening situation in the country. The eurosceptics have been, by far, the most critical group in relation to Russia.
“The relationship between the EU and Russia has been often marked by mutual mistrust and ambivalence. Russia has imposed various challenges on the EU [and] employed a divisive strategy with the EU and its member states. This tendency seems to have further increased following the last two waves of enlargement,” Dr Braghiroli noted.
Dr Braghioli’s paper seems to suggest that the response of most MEPs to Moscow’s increased efforts to throw a wedge between EU member states has been to realign themselves more in Russia’s favour. European politicians and public opinion would do well to reflect on what the cost of this change in policy will be for our whole continent.