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MEPs demand sanctions on Schröder over his ties with Russian firms

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By Jorge Liboreiro
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Schröder is linked to the company that operates the Nord Stream gas pipeline.
Schröder is linked to the company that operates the Nord Stream gas pipeline.   -   Copyright  Burhan Ozbilici/Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

MEPs have passed a resolution calling for former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to be added to the long list of individuals blacklisted over Russia's war in Ukraine.

Schröder, a socialist politician, became deeply linked to Russia's state-owned energy companies after serving as federal chancellor from 1998 to 2005.

His dealings with Nord Stream, Rosneft and Gazprom, as well as his close relationship with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, had for years been a source of controversy and a glaring example of a revolving door.

But as the Kremlin began bombing and shelling Ukraine, the former chancellor's liaisons were brought to the fore, putting Germany's ruling socialist party in an extremely uncomfortable position.

A recent interview with the New York Times, in which Schröder stood defiant and unapologetic, further fuelled the international outrage around his business ties.

"I don’t do mea culpa," the former chancellor said. "It's not my thing." 

The European Parliament's resolution, which passed on Thursday with 575 votes in favour, is non-binding and is seen as a symbolic call for action.

It was signed by the main political groups in the hemicycle: the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the liberal Renew Europe, the Greens, the Left and, notably, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

Jens Geier, the MEP who heads the German S&D delegation, said Schröder's actions "have absolutely nothing to do" with the party's convictions.

"It is tragic that Gerhard Schröder chose the wrong side of history," Geier, who voted in favour of the resolution, told Euronews. "He acts as a businessman."

The resolution is mostly focused on the social and economic consequences of the war but features an eye-catching line where MEPs demand a series of high-profile figures to be added to the EU sanctions.

The parliament "notes that former politicians such as Esko Aho, Francois Fillon and Wolfgang Schüssel have recently resigned from their positions in Russian firms and strongly demands that others, such as Karin Kneissl and Gerhard Schröder, do the same," the resolution reads.

Aho, Fillon and Schüssel previously served as heads of governments of Finland, France and Austria, respectively, and held high-level positions in leading Russian entities.

They all quit their jobs in reaction to the invasion.

Kneissl is a former Austrian former affairs minister and works as a blogger for Russian Today, which has been taken off air across the EU, and sits on the supervisory board of Rosneft.

The parliament "further calls on the [European] Council to extend the list of individuals targeted by EU sanctions to the European members of the boards of major Russian companies and to politicians who continue to receive Russian money," the resolution continues.

'He has to be put on a sanctions list'

To this day, Schröder remains chairman of the board of Rosneft, Russia's leading oil company, and Nord Stream AG, the consortium that operates Nord Stream, the massive underwater pipeline that brings gas from Russia directly into Germany. Gazprom is Nord Stream's majority shareholder.

The New York Times estimates the former chancellor is paid almost $1 million a year for his dealings.

During the interview, Schröder said he would only resign if Russia were to cut gas and oil supplies to Germany and opposed the introduction of an energy embargo.

Speaking about the alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine, Schröder said "that has to be investigated" but added he did not think the orders would have come from Putin himself.

"I think this war was a mistake, and I’ve always said so," he said.

The comments caused a political storm in Germany. The co-leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) called on Schröder to quit the party and give up his energy posts. Both calls have so far gone unheeded.

CHRIS YOUNG/AP2005
Schröder with Russian president Vladimir Putin.CHRIS YOUNG/AP2005

The European Parliament is now entering the fray with the resolution.

"It is outrageous that Gerhard Schröder continues to get paid for his position in Russian energy companies while the EU is struggling to cut the energy dependency links he contributed to create," said Luis Garicano, a Spanish liberal MEP and one of the promoters behind the resolution.

"Many Russians have entered the sanctions list with less responsibility for causing and enabling this war than what he has," the lawmaker noted in a statement.

Andreas Schwab, a German lawmaker with the EPP, admitted he had a "lot of respect" for Schröder while he stayed in power but that his present actions are not "helpful".

"He is acting actively against the common policy to defend European values," Schwab told Euronews. "And therefore he definitely has to be put on a sanctions list."

Daniel Freund, a German MEP who sits with the Greens, tweeted: "European top politicians will think twice before accepting jobs from dictators in the future."

Since the start of the war, the EU has blacklisted 1,093 individuals, including Putin and dozens of oligarchs, who are subject to an asset freeze and travel bans.

The targeted people come mainly from Russia, Belarus and the separatist regions of Ukraine. Adding a former European head of government would be unprecedented.

EU sanctions are, however, strictly intergovernmental and are decided by the EU Council, without the input or approval of the European Parliament. Unanimity is required for approval: a radical proposal to ban all Russian oil imports remains stuck in negotiations, mainly due to Hungary's opposition.

The move from Brussels coincides with a proposal by the Bundestag to strip Schröder of his office and staff, which cost German taxpayers over €400,000 per year, while retaining his €100,000 annual pension.

This article has been updated to include reactions and developments.