26th Sep 2023

French MEPs sanctioned for Russia election monitoring trips

  • French far-right MEP Thierry Mariani (Photo: Toms Norde, Valsts kanceleja)
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An EU Parliament (EP) body has barred four far-right French MEPs from doing official election-monitoring trips after they took part in missions to Russia in the run-up to its invasion of Ukraine.

The four French MEPs — Nicolas Bay, Hervé Juvin, Jean-Lin Lacapelle, and Thierry Mariani — went to Russia to observe parliamentary elections last September even though there was no formal EP mission to do so.

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They were told that the ban would last until the end of their mandates in 2024.

"We have decided to exclude you from participating in official EP election observation delegations until the end of this parliamentary term," said the parliament's Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group (DEG), in letters dated 3 March.

In a joint statement to EUobserver on Friday (4 March), three of the sanctioned French MEPs — Juvin, Lacapelle, and Mariani — called the decision "iniquitous" and complained that the chamber had imposed a "drastic reduction of the rights of parliamentarians."

They said they were considering an appeal against the sanction, but that the appeals procedure was unclear.

Excluding members "who unofficially observed the 2021 elections in Russia, is fully in line with our procedures," said David McAllister, a centre-right MEP from Germany who chairs the parliament foreign affairs committee and co-chairs the DEG.

Juvin, Lacapelle, and Mariani are members of the Rassemblement National party of Marine Le Pen, who is competing in French presidential elections next month. Bay, who was also sanctioned, came from the party of another French far-right presidential contender Eric Zemmour.

Apart from the French MEPs, two other lawmakers also faced a ban: Gunnar Beck, a German from the German far-right AfD party, and a Slovak, Miroslav Radačovský, who is a former judge and not a member of any party.

Radačovský told EUobserver on Friday that he observed elections in Ufa, a southern Russian city, last year.

He also told EUobserver his flights and accommodation had been paid for by the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, a state offshoot, but that he had openly declared this to the EP.

He called the DEG sanctions a "big mistake" and said that he opposed Russia's war.

Bay and Beck did not reply to questions.

The war in Ukraine showed it was "high time" for the EU's and national-level parliaments to take election-monitoring abuse more seriously, said Stefanie Schiffer, the head of a Berlin-based NGO called the European Platform for Democratic Elections, which tracks fake election-monitors across Europe.

Bogus election monitoring trips "are a recruitment opportunity for the Russians," said Anton Shekhovtsov, the director of Vienna-based NGO the Centre for Democratic Integrity.

It is important to combat disinformation at all times," said Tomas Tobé, a Swedish centre-right MEP who co-chairs the DEG. "Trustworthy international election observation is part of that," he said.

What happened was "especially reprehensible since these cases are about Russia," Tobé added.

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