Europe lacks courage to contradict US, should take the lead on dropping Russia sanctions – French MP

Pressured by Washington, the EU’s leadership is ignoring the voices calling for lifting sanctions against Russia, while concern is growing among regional European politicians about the real efficiency and the economic toll of the sanctions. The French Parliament has just approved a resolution calling for the end of the measures – but will Francois Hollande’s government listen? We ask a member of the French National Assembly, and author of the anti-sanctions motion. Thierry Mariani is on Sophie&Co today.

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Sophie Shevardnadze:Thierry Mariani, French politician, member of the French National Assembly, you've initiated a resolution to lift sanctions against Russia, it's really great to have you on our program. Welcome!

 Alright, let's start from the beginning: the National Assembly has voted in a resolution that recommends lifting sanctions against Russia. You have said that you don't recall a case, where action did not follow Parliament resolution. Do you really think that the French government would follow through after this vote or are you being overly optimistic?

Thierry Mariani: I will tell you on the 1st of July. Why? Because the vote of the resolution in the French National Assembly was the first step. We will have this again in some week, because, as you know, maybe, the French Senate will do exactly the same. There will be a debate in the French Senate about the resolution against the sanctions. My friend Pozzo di Borgo has the agreement to present this resolution - as you know, the President of the French Senate, Gérard Larcher, was here to meet your president. That means, I think, that in some weeks we will have a resolution of the National Assembly, a resolution of Senate... of course, the government can do what it wants, but you have... we are a democratic country, we give a lesson to the whole world. I cannot imagine that in a country which said that “We’re the motherland of democracy”, the Parliament can vote something and the government do another thing. As you know, we have a great pressure on the part of our economy, which suffers because we have sanctions. If you speak, for example, with agriculture - they are in trouble with these sanctions. That's why - I am not optimist, I am not pessimist - I think, there's a chance, because what is the official speech of the French government? I heard what Mr. Fekl said in Moscow, he said: "It's difficult to finish the sanctions, because Russia does not fulfil its obligation on Minsk agreements". But, see the reality in front: the main problem now is that Minsk agreements are not respected because the Ukrainian government does nothing. I think little by little French opinion is moving. That's why I think there's a chance. We will see it on the 1st of July.

SS: So, these sanctions, they are not imposed by the European parliaments - yet, they're affecting their constituents directly. Why can't parliaments lift them with their own power?

TM: In fact, as you know, these sanctions are the unanimous decision of all states of Europe, and when I say "all states of Europe", I forget, of course, the push of the Big Brother, America. We need just one state to say "it's finished", we need just one country who can have more courage than the others, and that's why I think it's possible. Why the vote of the French Parliament was important - because, I think, it's the first time that inside a great country, the Parliament gave its opinion about sanctions. These sanctions are on for two years, and honestly, we never asked each country what they are thinking. It's the decision of the...

SS: Council of Europe.

TM: Council of Europe.

SS: Yeah, but that's what I'm saying, because after the vote of the National Assembly, there was Italy's regional council that adopted a similar vote for lifting the sanctions against Russia. Then, there's Germany ruling party's coalition partner, the SPD, is also calling for restoring relations between the EU and Russia; and then, you have EU's foreign policy chief - I am talking about Federica Mogherini - she's saying "No. The sanctions will stay in place". Why are the different opinions being ignored in Brussels?

TM: Excuse me, there's a greater question of whether this European institution is democratic. In my opinion, no. In my opinion, the greatest problem now for Europe is that opinion of the state little by little disappears in front of the European administration. As you said, exactly, there's opinion of some state, there's opinion of some parliament, and the Commission says "No". That's why I hope, before July, the French government would say "It's enough".

SS: But do you really feel there's enough genuine support for this in the French government?I mean, I know the French Minister of Agriculture has said that "we need to lift the sanctions". I know, Emmanuel Macron, who is the French Minister of Economy, who also said that he hopes sanctions can be lifted towards the end of this summer. But do you feel there's support for this kind of point of view in the French government?

TM: You've must not heard this sentence until the end. They've said "I hope the sanctions will be finished as soon as the Minsk agreement will be respect by both" - and in fact, I repeat, what is the situation? This is a completely unequal situation, because in the Minsk agreements you have three parties, Russia and Ukraine are the two main ones, of course. Everybody has an obligation, for autonomy of the east of the country, for amnesty, for... The Ukrainian government respects nothing, and like that, the Minsk agreements could not be fulfilled, and after that we say: "Oh, the Minsk agreement is not fulfilled, that's why we must keep the sanctions".

SS: Yeah, I agree that this "Minsk agreement" is just an excuse now to keep on the sanctions. So, you have, on the one hand - countries like Greece, countries like Italy, countries like Hungary - they are against the sanctions, they don't want these sanctions. Then you have the other part of the EU members list: the UK, the Baltic States, you have Poland there... you know, staunch supporters of punitive measures against Russia. So, the opinions within the EU are divided, and we also established that people in Brussels don't really care about that either. My question is: at the end of the day, even the governments of the countries that say they don't want sanctions, quietly support the sanctions - why is that?

TM: I think they don't have enough courage. You know, it's the biggest problem of Europe. I don't speak just about the sanctions. Look, for example, at the attitude of Britain, at this moment. I don't always agree with Britain, but I respect their government, which said: "If you don't change the rules of Europe, we leave Europe". I remember the attitude in the past of General de Gaulle, who when there was a problem like that with the European administration, he said "If you don't do what is in the interest of my state, I will refuse to participate inside Europe". And you know, I think that the problem of Europe now is that you have so many good declarations separately, but each time when there's a meeting of all states, all governments do not have enough courage and they say "okay, we need to respect the consensus, we must be under the administration of the Commission". I repeat, if just one country said "We want to stop", normally all the sanctions would stop because we need unanimity. I just hope that my country, like it was the tradition before, will have again, this attitude.

SS: So, when you say that it's time to show guts and stand up to Brussels - what do you expect your government to do? What specific actions are you demanding from the French government? I mean, at the end of the day, France can't unilaterally lift the sanctions. What do you feel they should do, specifically?

TM: I am waiting, that in June or by the end of May, when there will be a meeting for that, the French government would say: "Excuse me, these sanctions have absolutely no result." Excuse me, if these sanctions would help immediately bring peace and stop the deaths in the part of Europe" - I would've said "Why not?". But after two years we saw that these sanctions have absolutely no result. No result in politics, no result in peace, just bad effect on economy. Why we continue? I think, what I am waiting of my government, is to say... I am just waiting, that my government would say "These sanctions have no result, are not useful, we must stop it and change policy".

SS: You've called the sanctions against Russia "ineffective and dangerous". I understand why it's ineffective, but dangerous? How is it dangerous?

TM: Dangerous, because, you know, I just was watching the TV about the NATO resolution. I think, in the last 20 years, maybe since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we never had a mood like that in Europe, when we hear a NATO official say that the only position is to put more weapons, more armies in the part of Europe, and for me, I am very worried about that, because I think... on the paper, there's absolutely no risk, but sometimes, little by little, you create the risk, and I think in this moment, pushed by the politics of some Baltic countries, for example, or Poland, we are creating a dangerous situation in Europe.

SS: You've mentioned in the beginning of the program, and I've also hear from other European politicians, for example, former EU Commissioner Romano Prodi told me that, French Yvan Blot told me that - obviously, the sanctions are imposed by Washington and this is the price EU has to pay for their Transatlantic friendship. Do you these costs are justified politically?

TM: No, of course. It is the right of Washington to want sanctions, but it is the right of Europe and France to say "I don't want them". I am not angry at America because they want these sanctions. I am angry at Europe, because they don't want to have their own politics in their own interests of Europe. I remember, in many situations, look for example at the attitude of France when there was the Iraq crisis. Washington wanted France to be in the war, like Britain, and President Chirac said "No" - we still stayed friends. And in fact, history proved the countries like France were right. That's why what I am waiting from my government now is to stop this situation.

SS: I was living in America back then, and I remember Americans were so mad that the French didn't involve themselves into Iraq war. They renamed the French fries into "Freedom fries".

TM: Yes, but now they say: "You have taken the right decision, we have taken the wrong one".

SS: Seriously, if the EU or Europe, or France, separately were to stand up to America and not tow down to its line, to say: "We don't want sanctions" - what could happen? What kind of backlash could Europe expect from America, except renaming French fries into "Freedom fries".

 Do you really face any serious backlash from America?

TM: I will say nothing. I hope, by July, I repeat, a change of position. As you know, now, in this moment, America is so much occupied by elections. That's why I think that main subject in America, in this moment, is not the sanctions against Russia.

SS: The Swiss newspaper, Le Matin Dimanche, reported that the U.S. diplomats have put pressure on Switzerland to ignore the upcoming St. Petersburg Economic Forum, and also, trying to make Swiss entrepreneurs kind of abandon the idea of making business in Russia, with Russia altogether. I am thinking here - politics, okay. But can politics be stronger than the force of the market? Can it really damage business?

TM: Well, the damage to business exists now. I think...

SS: But you know, people try maneuver here and there.

TM: Yes, yes, but no. You know, in France, we are a little bit naive sometimes, but now, I think, politics should be up to the economy. The more important are the interests of the state and foreign policy, and after, economy is, of course, important, but what is the interest in this moment in Europe? It is to have less tension in this part of Europe, it is to have more cooperation, it is to find a solution for Ukrainian crisis, and these sanctions, I repeat, are not the solution.

SS: But do you feel, in today's world, the market and the economy is weaker than the political decisions?

TM: Nobody's stronger, nobody's weaker. I just said, economy should be under the law of politics, and I repeat, most important now is to find better solutions in Ukraine.

SS: At the same time, we have EU's Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who is considering attending the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June - do you think it's a sign of shifts in the EU politics?

TM: I hope so. I don't know, I will wait for what is going to be said at the St. Petersburg Forum.

SS: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in Moscow recently, he met with Vladimir Putin. You are member of his party, the Republican party - do you feel like if his party wins the presidential vote, that would change France's relations with Russia? How would that change?

TM: You know, when we voted for this resolution, there was a fact: nearly, all of the opposition, meaning the party of Nicolas Sarkozy, François Fillon, voted against the sanctions. Nearly all of the Socialists voted in favour of the sanctions, except 6 or 9 members who made the decision. That's why, I think, if there's a new government in France, new majority, of course there will be a new position.

SS: But do you feel like, if they come to power, they will be able to change the popular stance of the establishment?

TM: I think so.

SS: I want to talk a little bit about you: I know that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has taken punitive measures against you over your trip to Crimea and your stance. In general, do you feel a strong backlash when it comes to your views and your stance towards Russia? In other places, I am not talking only about the Council of Europe.

TM: I’ve been in politics for a long time. I was in Syria, two times, in the last months, with some other members of the French Parliament. I know that for some European media it's not the good position. But, excuse me, it's my conviction. You know, I was the last to organize the delegation in Iraq in 2002, and at that moment, I said: "If there's intervention in Iraq, after that, it will become, little by little, a mess in the Middle East". In fact, I saw that what I said 14 years ago is, unfortunately, the fact now. That's why, of course, after all that sort of travelling, I have clashed with the press, but - excuse me, I think I am in politics to defend my conviction, not to please some people.

SS: Another strong point that you make is that EU and France need Russia to combat terrorism and to combat ISIS in Syria. But, you know, you have Russia that supports President Assad - at least, they think he should stay in power for the moment being - and France supports the rebels who want to overthrow president Assad. How do you see their unity on that front?

TM: I just saw with satisfaction that the French politics, little by little is moving. Some months ago there were two enemies - terrorists and President Assad. Little by little, I saw that the position of my country changed so that there's one main danger - it is terrorism. Of course, after that we must find the solution for Assad. What is my conviction: I think, to win a war we need troops. We need troops on the ground. I don't think that the regime of Assad is a dream, of course, but I think, in this very moment we have the same interests, it is to destroy terrorists. That's why with some other members of parliament I met him some months ago. That's why I think that the position of the European country should move, little by little. First, it is to destroy Daesh or ISIS, and after, we will try to find a solution in Syria. But, to do both at the same time - we will have the same situation on our hands like Iraq or like in Libya. That means, it will be a complete chaos. That's why I think the position of Russia, fortunately, is more realistic. You support the official regime in Syria, thanks to the help from Russian aviation, now, little by little, the war is moving in the good sense, and I think it is in the interest of all those people who are against terrorism. After that, we will see together what will be the situation in Syria.

SS: Alain Juillet, who is a former Deputy head of the French Foreign Intelligence, he actually says that the French policy in Syria has not been always based on reality.

TM: Yes.

SS: ...that French actions there were many times against the intelligence advice. Why is that? Why insist on it even when your own analysts are telling you it's not a good idea?

TM: I think, since the last year, the foreign politics of my country is too much behind the U.S. United States are a friend, but sometimes, they can make mistakes. Again, it's in the interest of all countries, of all Europe, to say sometimes to our friend: "You've taken the wrong way". We did it for Iraq, we didn't do it for Syria. Of course, I absolutely agree with Alain Juillet when he spoke about it, because we took the bad way on the Middle East at this moment.

SS: Just recently, French diplomats have refused to blacklist two major terrorist organisations - I am talking about Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham: they are all tied to Al-Qaeda. They were operating in Syria. Why is Paris supporting the extremists in Syria, when it itself was a victim of terrorism?

TM: Because there's always a sort of a revolutionary myth about the "good terrorist", and if you've seen the media in France, they are always explaining you that you have "good" terrorists and "bad" terrorists. I think it's impossible to tell the difference.

SS: Thierry Mariani, than you so much for this interview.

 I wish you all the luck.