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18th Sep 2020

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Far-right MEP resigns from EU Endowment for Democracy

  • Vladimir Putin's Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimea. MEP Thierry Mariani claims most in the region are pro-Russian anyway (Photo: kremlin.ru)

French far-right MEP Thierry Mariani has resigned from the governors' board of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED).

The organisation was set up in 2013 by the EU and offers grants to support media and civil society overseas.

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  • MEP Mariani (l) with Italy's hard-right leader Matteo Salvini (Photo: Thierry Mariani)

The endowment's main objective is "to foster and encourage 'deep and sustainable democracy' in transition countries and in societies struggling for democratisation."

But Mariani's pro-Kremlin views on Ukraine, and his support for Russia's annexation of Crimea, had riled his critics, who say he has no business being part of the endowment.

On Wednesday (9 September), Mariani said he had informed the president of the endowment's board, fellow MEP David McAllister, that he was stepping down.

"The letter will leave tomorrow. We didn't have time. I resigned effectively as I had announced to president McAllister. I prefer to resign," he told EUobserver.

He said he resigned because he did not want to be suspected of leaking documents to the Russians - and he blamed an article in French outlet Mediapart for stirring up criticism against him.

"This is a way to despise, and I repeat 'despise', all these intolerant people who exclude anyone who doesn't share their views," he said of his resignation.

Mariani was one of the nine MEPs nominated by the European Parliament to be a member of the EED board of governors.

The board provides overall guidance to the EED mandate, procedures and EED's overall development.

An EED spokesperson said Mariani had no influence over EED grant-making decisions.

"Since his nomination, Mr Mariani, has not participated in any board of governors meetings so far," said the spokesperson, in an email.

His critics have pointed out that Mariani visited Crimea over the summer to observe a constitutional referendum that took place in Russia.

Mykola Tochytskyi, Ukraine's ambassador to the EU, had condemned Mariani's visit and said it was illegal.

McAllister even issued a statement at the time, announcing any MEP who went on the trip did so on their own initiative, and not as a member of the European Parliament.

Mariani said he had gone to Crimea some 15 times over the years to observe the renovation of a French military cemetery in Sevastopol.

"I was following the restoration of the largest French military cemetery outside France, which is in Sevastopol. I followed this restoration from 2005 until around the beginning of 2013," he said.

As for Russia's annexation, deemed illegal by the European Union, Mariani claims most in the region are pro-Russian anyway.

His resignation is likely to be praised by rights groups.

Earlier this week, they had issued a statement demanding Mariani's removal.

They said no one at the Identity and Democracy group (I&D), the far-right faction at the European Parliament, should have a seat on the endowment.

"Their trip [to Crimea] was none other than further proof that the I&D group is fundamentally opposed to European values," they said.

However, EUobserver understand Mariani's replacement will be Jerome Riviere, another far-right French MEP from the I&D.

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