by Doru Frantescu
In a report of the European Parliament on the military situation in the Black Sea area, some Members supported an amendment asking that the possibility of providing Ukraine with defensive arms should be considered, if Russia does not fully implement the Minsk ceasefire agreements (par. 16/3).
This strong statement generated severe disagreements, dividing the MEPs on both ideological and national lines. Notably, all MEPs coming from Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance supported the idea. Conversely, all MEPs coming from their coalition ally in the German government, the social-democrats (SPD), voted against it. This development illustrates the deep divisions within the German Government on what the best course of action should be in response to the rising geo-political tensions on the EU’s Eastern frontier. A recent study published by PEW Research Center indicates that this split is observable also within the German society, which explains the behaviour of the political elites and limits the margin of manoeuvre of the German government and, consequently, of the EU and NATO as a whole (earlier this year, Merkel did not agree when Obama said that the possibility of sending weapons to Ukraine should be considered).
The hard line of Merkel’s CDU/CSU MEPs received the strongest backing from the Polish political group colleagues, but also from the smaller EPP delegations coming from Romania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia, Greece, Belgium, Portugal and Sweden. Remarkably, all 10 MEPs coming from FIDESZ, the party of the Hungarian prime-minister, Viktor Orban, also sided with Merkel’s party and voted for a hard line on Russia. This may come as a surprise to many, given that some EU voices have argued that Viktor Orban has a too close relationship with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin – the picture seems to have many nuances.
However, CDU/CSU did not receive the backing for its position from their People’s Party colleagues from Austria, France and Spain, who have shown reluctance and abstained. The EPP family members who prove most difficult to take on board in such an initiative are those coming from Forza Italia (Silvio Berlusconi’s party, whose MEPs have consistently voted for a softer approach towards Moscow). The smaller EPP delegations coming from the Netherlands and Malta also voted against.
The proposal to consider sending defense military capabilities to Ukraine was favoured by some socialist delegations as well, the largest among these being the Romanian one (the MEP steering this report through the European Parliament, Ioan Mircea Pascu, is himself a Romanian social-democrat and former minister of defense of the biggest EU Black Sea bordering country, Romania).
Most of the French socialists, Francois Holland’s party, also supported the proposal, which comes as a surprise, since the French Republicans, the party of former president, Nikolas Sarkozy, otherwise known for their much harder line in foreign policy, did not support it (they abstained). Other socialist MEPs voting in favour come from among the Portuguese, Polish, Hungarian, Croatian, Lithuanian and Slovakian delegations.
Almost all of the Members of the third-largest EP group, European Conservatives and Reformists, voted in favour of considering the possibility of sending arms to Ukraine, with the notable exception of the delegation of Alternative for Germany, a smaller Eurosceptic party who has given Chancellor Merkel a hard time since its recent emergence.
The ALDE group was split in half, with even MEPs from the same member state having different views.
The remaining Members, to the left of the socialists and the right of the conservatives, have all voted against, which made that the statement be rejected by a margin of almost 60 votes.
In a similar development on a separate vote, a majority opposed a part of a text saying that littoral states (Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia) should increase their cooperation, including in the military field and inviting NATO to support their effort. In this case, the radical left / communists, the Greens, the non-attached members and a majority of the liberals blocked the adoption of this paragraph, taking advantage of the internal disagreements within the two biggest groups (EPP and S&D).
However, a majority was rallies to push through a softer statement that the EU should support Ukraine in “enhancing its defense capabilities” (292 votes in favour to 262 against).
The four main political groups (EPP, S&D, ECR, ALDE) also succeeded in adopting a paragraph saying that NATO “has the moral obligation to support Georgia’s and Ukraine’s ability to defend themselves”, by 321 votes in favour and 244 against.
Declarations by relevant MEPs
Rapporteur Ioan Mircea Pascu (S&D, RO): “Through the strategic military developments, including heavy rearmament of Crimea, Russia is in practice creating another launching pad, of the proportions of Kaliningrad, this time in the Black sea. In one year the defensive force which existed there has been transformed into a strike force comprising all three services, which is a very powerful instrument with which Russia can threaten Central Europe, the Balkans, Southern Europe and also Eastern Mediterranean and even the Middle East”.
Gabrielius Landsbergis (EPP, LT) Rapporteur on the resolution on the state of EU-Russia relations said, during the plenary debate on the report, that the annexation of Crimea by Russia will never be recognized and that the EU must stay firm on this principle. He also stated that the countries in the region should create a joint military battalion to be able to face the threats.
Mogherini’s party opposes tough criticism of Russian government
Eventually, the report as a whole, whose critical tone towards Russia had been watered down in the process of voting, was adopted with 356 votes in favour to 183 against. Notably, the German SPD delegation and Italian PD (prime-minister Renzi’s party) opposed even the softened version of the report. PD is also the party of origin of the current chief EU diplomat, Federica Mogherini, which signals that complex discussions may be foreseen among EU, but also NATO partners.
Main provisions of the report, as adopted
The report strongly reaffirms the support to the non-recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. Moreover, it states that due to the on-going changes in the strategic landscape of the Black Sea Basin the EU and the Member States must have a security response to this situation and reconsider the foreign and security policy.
Russia’s pressures on the EU eastern border is of great concern for the MEPs and through the report they condemn the Russian indirect and direct support to the separatists groups in Ukraine as well as the violation of human rights that have occurred in Crimea since the occupation by Russian forces.
The EU Parliamentarians in favour of the report argue also that EU sanctions against Russia should continue to be linked to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and that those should be strengthened if Moscow does not comply. They also called on the Member States to stay united in their commitment to the sanctions.
The resolution urge the Member State to reduce their energy dependence and to ensure security for oil and gas exploitation and transportation in the Black Sea Region.
Finally, the text asks NATO to continue to develop its cyber and missile defense capabilities.
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