A delegation of 11 French lawmakers and senators arrived in Crimea on July 28 to take part in celebrating Russian Navy Day in Sevastopol.
There are no grounds to keep anti-Russian sanctions in place, said the head of the delegation Thierry Mariani, addressing the Crimean Parliament in Simferopol. Republican MP Jacques Myard also emphasized the importance of lifting the sanctions.
In July 2015, a group of 10 French deputies visited Crimea for the first time despite domestic and European criticism. Back then the lawmakers said that what they saw was completely different from the picture painted by Western media. They say the same thing now after having seen the situation with their own eyes.
The recent visit of French MPs is part of a trend taking place in Europe.
On June 8, the French Senate voted overwhelmingly to urge the government to gradually reduce economic sanctions on Russia amid growing opposition to the punitive measures across Europe. The French National Assembly voted for lifting the sanctions in late April.
French politician and a member of the European Parliament, Rachida Dati sent an open letter to Russia Today news channel, providing arguments for the removal of Western punitive measures. The letter was signed by 12 European politicians, including from France, Germany and Italy.
The Belgian Parliament has taken up a resolution on the abolition of the EU restrictions. Immediately after the parliamentary recess, the hearing on the resolution will take place in the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives. Its purpose – to authorize the Belgian government to act in the European Union in support of the lifting of sanctions against Russia, suffered by Belgian farmers.
On July 7, the Parliament of Cyprus also adopted a resolution in support of lifting the restrictions, as have the Italian regions of Lombardy, Tuscany, Veneto and Liguria. In late June, Italy’s Upper House of Parliament approved a resolution opposing any automatic renewal of sanctions.
Estonian business circles express dissatisfaction with the prolongation of the anti-Russia sanctions citing damage for the local economy. Estonia ought to alter current course and support removal of anti-Russia economic sanctions, says former prime minister turned businessman Tiit Vähi.
Brexit is also a factor that undermines the West’s unity on the issue. According to Stratfor estimates, the withdrawal of the UK would raise the possibility that the European Union’s long-standing consensus on sanctions could break by the time the next vote occurs, probably in January 2017.
The United Kingdom was one of the biggest proponents of maintaining strong economic pressure on Russia. The Brexit referendum has removed the UK – a powerful supporter of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hard line sanctions policy – from the European Council. With Great Britain leaving while the opposition to the sanctions is mounting in Germany and southern Europe, Merkel risks to be left isolated both in Germany and in the European Council with only Poland, Sweden and the Baltic States supporting her.
The countries opposing the sanctions have a good reason to do so. Europe stands to lose a total of €100bn from its economy due to the trade sanctions it has placed on Russia, putting around two million jobs across member states at risk, according to a calculation by the Austrian Institute for Economic Research (WIFO).
Between December 2013 and June 2015, the global loss totaled $ 60.2 billion, on average $ 3.2 billion per month.
It was mostly incurred by European economies. French firm-level data points to a deterioration of trade finance services as the dominant mechanism.
While the US calls upon Europe to continue imposing the sanctions, billions of US taxpayer dollars are spent on Russian RD-180 rocket engines America cannot do without. The Pentagon is allowed to purchase up to 18 Russian-made rockets to launch spy satellites into orbit through 2022. The deal passed the Senate in June.
While the EU bears the brunt of the sanctions war with Russia losing 100 billion euros ($112 billion), US companies led by Boeing Co., Cargill Inc. and Yum! Brands Inc. have been investing for the long-haul and gaining market share.
The EU prolonged the sanctions on July 1. The restrictions, targeting specific sectors of the Russian economy, will be active until 31 January 2017. Italy, Greece and Hungary questioned the need for extending the punitive measures. Italy insisted on taking the decision with strings attached. This was the last time the sanctions were prolonged without a full and proper discussion of the subject at the European Council. The European dissatisfaction with the sanctions became evident during economic forum in St. Petersburg (SPIEF) that took place in June.
Several EU countries, including Austria and Hungary, have expressed interest in lifting, or at least softening, sanctions, as they can no longer afford to miss out on trade with Russia. Having failed to influence Russia’s foreign policy, the sanctions are useless anyway. Nobody gains and everybody loses in this sanctions war – it’s a no-win policy.
All summed up, it looks like opposition within the EU to the sanctions further renewal may now be close to achieving critical mass. All the indications are that the sanctions would not be extended anymore. The French lawmakers visit to Crimea is just another event to confirm this fact.