European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday (20 March) he was not aware that a Ukrainian oligarch close to Moscow had set up a strategic investment fund for the country, to which several European VIPs have loaned their names.
Dmytro Firtash bought the Ukrainian service of Euronews, and yesterday Kyiv decided to revoke its license.
The Ukrainian authorities suspect that Firtash, who is under home arrest in Vienna and awaits extradition to the US on a number of charges, including bribery, is trying to buy influence.
>> Read: Ukraine bans Euronews
EurActiv queried Juncker today (20 March) as to whether he was aware that a pro-Russian oligarch had seized control of the Ukrainian service of Euronews, and had set up a fund similar to the Commission’s own strategic investment plan. Several EU personalities, including a former Commissioner, have allegedly given their blessing to the fund.
Reports indicate that Germany’s former Minister of Finance Peer Steinbruck will head up the group’s finance and tax efforts.
Also taking part in the project are are French philosopher and pundit Bernard-Henri Levy, former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, the ex-prime minister of Poland, Michael Spindelegger, former Vice Chancellor of Austria, as well as ex-Commissioner Günter Verheugen, who has been appointed the Agency’s “leader”.
Former Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle is said to have refused the post accepted by Verheugen, stating that Ukraine had “enough” modernisation programs and needed to concentrate on the one put forward by the Commission. Füle also admitted that he had problems accepting a job offer from Firtash, as this raised doubts about whether the effort is in the interest of Ukraine, and in partnership with the country’s authorities.
Juncker humourously responded that each time he attended summits, he learned things at the press conferences, adding that he had no knowledge of Ukraine having banned Euronews, or persons from the private sector having joined said undertaking.
But Juncker added he was a big fan of Euronews, and that he was watching it in his Brussels hotel, where he said there were only five TV channels.
“So I have no choice, and I watch Euronews the whole night long. So I’m a specialist of Euronews, and I want to remind that the Commission funds 35% of the budget of Euronews without being a stakeholder,” he said.
Juncker added he opposed those who say the Commission should set the editorial line of Euronews.
“This is not my idea. This is not my view of editorial freedom,” he opined.
Regarding the reported investment plan, Juncker said he had not been approached by Firtash to contribute, adding “I don’t think it could compete with mine”.