Fleckenstein MEP: ‘Parliamentarians should be removed from EU-Russia sanctions lists’

Knut Fleckenstein

Knut Fleckenstein [DEEEP Project/Flickr]

It is the duty of parliamentarians to contribute to re-opening the dialogue between the EU and Russia, argues Knut Fleckenstein, saying it was “a serious mistake” to block the Russian State Duma speaker from entering Finland.

Knut Fleckenstein is Vice-President of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament. He spoke to EURACTIV Greece’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.

Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki agreement, do you think it’s time for celebrations?

The Helsinki process between all European countries, US, Canada and the Soviet Union has contributed to replacing tensions between East and West with détente. It also created trust, supported change and it promoted peace, security and stability in Europe. It allowed for democratic development and respect for human rights.

Ultimately, it is also thanks to the Helsinki process that organisations such as Poland’s Solidarnosc could rise. We can therefore say that the Helsinki process contributed to the fall of the Iron Curtain. And yet it’s no time for celebrations today. Forty years after the signature of the Helsinki Final Act on 1 August 1975 Europe is facing a new security crisis.

In recent years the relations between the West and Russia have reached a serious deadlock. In your view, what went wrong? Do you think the OSCE should reconsider its role?

Yes, indeed, relations with Russia have probably reached a new record low. This was triggered by the situation in Ukraine. By annexing Crimea, Russia has effectively occupied part of another European state. It has also sparked a military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. We can only condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea as well as its efforts to destabilise Eastern Ukraine. The same goes for what happened in Georgia in August 2008.

Russia’s actions have seriously undermined its international standing and the trust it had gained among its European partners. The loss of trust is certainly the biggest obstacle to re-establishing constructive relations with Russia in Europe. Therefore it is high time for confidence-building.

The OSCE could play a particular role in this difficult situation as it is the only European organisation in which all parties to the current conflict in Ukraine are represented equally. I believe we could have made better use of the OSCE over the past twenty years. The OSCE would have been the right forum for discussing in more depth all questions common to the European neighbourhood, including the EU’s own initiatives for supporting security, stability and prosperity for its Eastern neighbours which, by the way, are at the same time Russia’s Western neighbours.

What do European Socialists propose in order to “revive” the Helsinki accords? 

The European Socialists and Social Democrats in the European Parliament propose to renew the Helsinki process. We should bring back all the partners in order to discuss together how to better solve similar situations in the future.

In principle, thanks to the OSCE, we have the necessary instruments but we haven’t used them sufficiently.

Finland recently blocked Russian State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin Naryshkin from entering the country for a meeting of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly because of his inclusion on the EU sanctions list. This triggered strong reactions in Moscow. What’s your opinion about such moves?

I am convinced it is a serious mistake that the Speaker of the Russian State Duma could not participate in the meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Helsinki. In general, I believe it is counterproductive to include parliamentarians in sanctions lists. In these times of crises we need more dialogue not less. 

Parliamentary dialogue is an important part of it. It is the duty of parliamentarians to contribute to debate and dialogue. It is not important whether your dialogue partner agrees with your opinion or not. On the contrary, the strength of one’s argumentation fully develops when one is confronted with a different opinion. That’s the force of our culture of democratic debate which we should not underestimate.

Therefore I urge both the European Union and Russia to remove from their respective sanctions lists all those who are members of parliaments, be it the Russian Federal Assembly, the European Parliament or national parliaments.

Some EU governments are opposed to EU sanctions against Russia. Does this means Russia’s’ “divide and rule” approach was successful?

Actually, EU governments have been very united in their response so far. But the EU’s sanction policy against Russia has had a serious defect since the beginning: it included parliamentarians in the sanctions list.

However, it was a right decision to agree about economic sanctions, even if they also affect EU companies. They are the right instrument as long as we in the EU agree that there can be no military solution in any case. If this consensus vanished, then, I am afraid, we would also have to reopen the question of economic sanctions. But as long as we oppose delivery of weapons, we must uphold the sanctions.

The best option would however be prompt and full implementation of the Minsk agreements by all sides in order to be able to simply remove these sanctions.