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What Shapes EU MPs Views on Russia?

EU MPs are chiefly driven by national, rather than European, interests, in their views on Russia.

Study’s Authors:

Anna DekalchukCandidate of Political Sciences, Tutor in the Political Sciences Department, HSE, St. Petersburg.
Dmitry SkugarevskyDoctoral student, Geneva Institute of International Research, Research Fellow at the Institute for the Rule of Law at the European University, St. Petersburg.
Alexandra KhokhlovaMA, Tartu University (Estonia), 2015 graduate of the Political Sciences BA programme at HSE, St. Petersburg.

EU MPs are increasingly negative on Russia, and their positions are largely defined by their national interests – rather than by their ideological affiliation to any particular political grouping in the European parliament. The researchers believe that this indicates that national interests trump ideological stance for EU MPs. Their research was presented in the article: National or European Politicians? Gauging MEPs Polarity when Russia is Concerned.

Nationality matters

‘Is cause for concern’, ‘steps need to be taken’, ‘we are concerned’ and similar phrases are often bandied about in EU MPs discussions about Russia. MPs from Sweden, the Baltic States, Czech Republic, and Poland are most likely to be negative. The MPs most likely to be positive are from: Greece, France, Cyprus, and Germany.

Table 1. How MPs’ countries impact the tone they use in questions about Russia.

Top countries whose deputies are most often negative in their questions about Russia

Top countries whose deputies are

most often positive in their questions about









Czech Republic













At the same time, research has shown that an MP’s ideological affiliation (membership of any particular ideological grouping in parliament) has a smaller impact on the tone they use in their questions. The Eurosceptic ‘Europe of Nations and Freedom’ group headed by Marine le Pen is a notable exception to this.

Questions raised by EU MPs at the European Commission on Russia resemble those raised in Russia regarding state agencies or officials. Deputies are able to put their questions independently, unlike an environment in which the MPs vote under pressure from ideological coalitions. ‘We wanted to use the example of questions on Russia to consider the extent to which the European Parliament is a ‘regular’ parliament,’ Anna Dekalchuk said. The concept of ‘normalcy’ (a term developed by UK academic Simon Hicks) in this context means voting along ideological lines, rather than national ones.

The research results indicated that an MPs nationality has a greater impact on how negatively or positively they phrase their questions on Russia. This runs counter to previous research results.

What EU MPs are worried about

The researchers found that human rights and political freedoms in Russia are themes that often feature in EU MPs questions regarding Russia raised at the European Commission.

The researchers focused on the period 2002 to 2015. All the questions put by EU MPs in the parliament were analyzed in this research: 117,000 questions were raised, of which just over 1,000 involved Russia.

The research results indicated that, in the 2000s, EU MPs’ questions on Russia chiefly focused on issues relating to Chechnya, closely followed by the case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Later, the key questions related to Alexey Navalny, Pussy Riot, Crimea, Ukraine, sanctions and anti-sanctions.

Table 2. Subjects raised by EU MPs

Negative questions

Positive questions

Alexey Navalny

Billions of cubic meters (natural gas)

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Ban on sales of harp seal meat

Pussy Riot

Research into arthritis treatment

Grigory Pasko (Russian environmentalist)

Questions relating to environmental diversity

Nadezhda Savchenko

6 party meeting on North Korea’s nuclear programme, Beijing


Ruslan Maigov (Chechen refugee)

25th Russia-EU summit


EU finance programmes PHARE и TACIS


Gas fields, Groningen

Leilа Zana, Kurdish human rights activist

Franz Fischler, EU Agriculture Commissioner

The negative tone used in EU MPs’ questions on Russia significantly increased after the military conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008. ‘Events in Ukraine, and their impact, were the culmination of a situation in which questions about Russia were already negative,’ Dekalchuk said. Positive questions were most commonly related to cooperation with Russia. EU MPs are also concerned about environmental issues in areas that border Russia, Baltic Sea transport, cooperation in research and education.

‘What is the European Commission planning to do regarding censorship on Russian TV of the US programmes The Simpsons and South Park?’

*Italian researcher Stefano Braghiroli has carried out research indicating that European Parliament votes on Russia are ideologically driven, i.e. MPs are chiefly led by their parliamentary coalitions, rather than national interests.

September 05, 2016