The entrance to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

There’s a war raging in Europe: for the first time since 1968, a European country has been invaded. What consequences will this war have for the Netherlands and Europe? Read more

There’s a war raging in Europe: for the first time since 1968, a European country has been invaded. What consequences will this war have for the Netherlands and Europe? 

In this dossier, we focus on how money flows to and from Russia. We analyse the role which the Netherlands plays in the chess game of the Russian rulers and wealthy oligarchs – in Groningen, at the Zuidas and in The Hague.

7 articles

The entrance to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. © Frederick Florin

Brussels wants to ban Russian lobbyists, but France is not cooperating

The European Parliament and the European Commission no longer want to be targeted by lobbyists from Russian companies. For months now, the Council of the European Union, chaired by France, has ignored this cry for help.

His entry pass will stop working on 7 October this year. Until then, Dmitry Udalov, a lobbyist for the Russian gas company Gazprom, can enter the buildings of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg without an appointment. He has access to the public gallery of the plenary chamber, as well as the cafes and corridors where MEPs meet. He is free to wander the halls and knock on their office doors.

Four lobbyists from the Russian oil company Lukoil have such passes too, of which one is valid until 9 February 2023, according to the latest data in the so-called Transparency Register. Being listed in this Register is mandatory for anyone who wants to lobby an MEP or a European Commissioner, and anyone not listed in the Transparency Register cannot gain access to any EU institution.

Three months after the war on Ukraine started, Russian companies still have access to the political heart of the EU

The fact that Gazprom and Lukoil are still listed is most certainly a sore point for the Commission and the European Parliament. After all, isn’t it strange that Russian companies, with close ties to the Kremlin, still have access to the political heart of the European Union after almost three months after Russia waged war upon Ukraine?

Research by Follow the Money shows that the Commission and Parliament want to strike all Russian companies from the Transparency Register. Their lobbyists would then no longer be able to enter Parliament or make appointments with members of the European Commission.

But that requires the support of the President of the Council of the EU, which currently is France. And the Council has not responded to a proposal to take action that was put forward in March. Follow the Money discovered this after the European Parliament released some documents in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Gazprom and the vodka distillers

On Monday evening, 7 March, Roberta Metsola, the President of the European Parliament, met with the Vice-Presidents of the Parliament in Strasbourg. Metsola proposed to take action against Russian lobbyists.

Her suggestion was expanded by German social democrat MEP Katarina Barley, the Vice-President responsible for the Transparency Register. On 15 March, nineteen days after the invasion of Ukraine, she sent an email proposing the removal of Russian lobbyists from the Transparency Register.  

She wrote that an ‘initial step’ would be to suspend all organisations with Russian headquarters. She added a list of thirteen names: in addition to energy companies Lukoil and Gazprom, it included the umbrella organisation of Russian vodka producers, the antivirus company Kaspersky and the aluminium company Rusal.

​Barley continued in her email: ‘In a second stage, other organisations based outside Russia but clearly working to promote the interests of Russian companies could also be targeted (e.g. Rosneft Deutschland, Nord Stream II based in Switzerland).’

She substantiated this by writing that their presence ‘damage[s] the reputation of the Register’. This is a reference to the code of conduct that lobbyists listed on the Transparency Register must adhere to: ‘registrants shall [..] not damage the reputation of the register or cause prejudice to the Union institutions’.

Formally, Barley’s proposal is for a ‘suspension’, with the possibility of lifting that. The ‘suspension, however, would be lifted (or not imposed in the first place) if organisations publicly and unequivocally condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine’. She did not specify how this is to be determined: what constitutes an ‘unambiguous’ denunciation?

The MEP sent her email to European Commissioner Věra Jourová (Values and Transparency) and Clément Beaune, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs. After all, France is chairing the Council of the EU this semester.

Not a peep from Paris

The monitoring of compliance with the Transparency Register’s Code of Conduct is handled by a joint secretariat of Parliament, the Commission and the Council. Barley therefore stresses the importance of all three accepting her proposal ’at a political level’.

Jourová responded within two weeks. On 26 March, she expressed her support on behalf of the Commission for the measures proposed by Barley: a suspension of companies and organisations based in Russia, plus a possible extension of that suspension to ‘ organisations based outside the Russian Federation but having clear links to the Russian regime and companies of Russian state interests’.

Secretary of State Beaune does not react. No support, no rejection. Simply nothing. A source within the European Parliament, who was not allowed to talk to the press on the record, tells Follow the Money that they are still waiting for clarification from the Council of the EU. ‘We have yet to receive an official reply or an explanation as to why we have not received one.’ A spokesperson for the French presidency did not respond to a request for comment.

Before they could enter, the lobbyists’ passes were checked extensively

In a reaction to Follow the Money, Maxim Bunin, a lobbyist for Russian oil group Lukoil, stressed that his company is not under EU sanctions and that it has always fully complied with the code of conduct. Bunin believes that there is ‘no evidence’ for Barley’s claim that Lukoil would damage the reputation of the Transparency Register. He argues for a fair and ‘non-arbitrary approach’.

Since 24 February, the first day of the war, Lukoil lobbyists have visited the European Parliament twice, says Bunin. However, their passes were checked extensively before they could enter. A meeting with the Commission on the Fit for 55 climate dossier was postponed until further notice, he said, ‘despite the fact that the company is making huge efforts to deliver on the EU’s climate targets’.

Sanctions

The possible suspension of representatives of Russian companies is a separate debate, not linked to discussions on the sixth package of sanctions, the most controversial part of which – a ban on imports of Russian oil – is unacceptable for Member State Hungary. This latest package also includes a ban on providing services to Russian companies.

‘The Kremlin relies on accountants, consultants and spin doctors from Europe,’ Commission President Von der Leye said on 4 May. ‘And this will now stop. We are banning those services from being provided to Russian companies.’

In order to ban Russian lobbyists employed by Gazprom, suspension would still be necessary

According to the source in Parliament, such a consultancy ban, which would affect tax consultants in the financial heart of Amsterdam, would only affect European companies. In order to ban Russian lobbyists directly employed by, for example, Gazprom, the suspension from the Transparency Register proposed by Barley would still be necessary.

Back in March, Barley’s list contained thirteen names; the register now only shows nine organisations with headquarters in Russia. As of recently, fertiliser company Phosagro, chemical company Acron and consultancy firm Rumyantsev & Partners are no longer listed.

Kaspersky has updated its data: previously, the address of its head office in Moscow was listed, but since 7 May, that changed to the address of its holding company. According to the Transparency Register, Kaspersky is now a British company.

Translation: Delia Burggraaf