Euro MPs fear growing influence of the Russian rouble in Europe


Mediapart recently revealed how earlier this year Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National party obtained a loan of 9 million euros from a Russian bank. The man who helped broker the deal was French far-right MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, who has confirmed that he received 140,000 euros for his consultancy work. Questions have now been raised in the European Parliament about whether Schaffhauser has officially declared either the income or his extra-curricular activities, with the parliament’s president Martin Schultz promising to investigate the issue. More broadly, reports Ludovic Lamant, there is growing unease in Brussels and Strasbourg about what are feared to be concerted efforts by Russia to buy influence in a number of European political parties.

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The French Euro MP who helped broker a loan of 9 million euros for Marine Le Pen's Front National (FN) party from a Russian bank could face disciplinary action over the deal. Far-right MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser has admitted being paid 140,000 euros for his consultancy work in setting up the contract with Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank, which was finalised in September 2014. When Mediapart broke the story Schaffhauser brushed aside suggestions he had done anything wrong, declaring: “If there is a conflict of interest that's for the European Parliament to decide.”

Now it looks as if the authorities in Strasbourg are going to act on the French politician's comments and examine the MEP's declaration of financial interests. The president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz has made it clear he does not rule out sanctions against Schaffhauser. “His media declarations could signify that there is a problem linked to his declaration of financial interests,” Schulz's spokesman Armin Machmer told Mediapart. “We are going to ask the parliament’s internal authorities in charge of MEPs [editor's note, this is a specialist unit of the parliament] to check his declaration. Depending on the outcome we will take the necessary measures. If there is a problem the president will not hesitate to impose sanctions.”

In itself it is not illegal to go out and find funding for a political party from abroad. Nor is it against the rules of the European Parliament. But the French MEP must defend himself against two main concerns raised by parliamentary experts. Firstly, Jean-Luc Schaffhauser says that he received a 140,000 euro commission for helping arrange the loan, which was finalised in September 2014. But as of December 1st, 2014, this sum had not yet appeared in the MEP's declaration of interests, available online here on the parliament's website. Yet under the “Code of Conduct for Members of the European Parliament with respect to financial interests and conflicts of interest”, and in particular under article 4, each MEP must inform the institution's president “of any changes that have an influence on their declaration within 30 days of each change occurring”.

The second potential infringement by the French MEP also involves the register of financial interests; Schaffhauser's declarations imply that he gave up his activities as a consultant after he was elected in the European elections in May 2014. In one section he declares that he received more than 10,000 euros a month gross as an international consultant in the three years before he became a member. But the part of the form where he is supposed to declare any “regularly paid activity” carried out in parallel to his current duties as an MEP has been left blank. Yet on the face of it he has omdeed continued his consultancy work, at any rate for the Front National and at least until the autumn of 2014.