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The referendum to decide between autonomy and joining Russia has no legal value, warn MEPs

The Russian military intervention in Crimea sparked a storm of violent criticism by members of the European Parliament, who roundly condemned the scheduled 16 March referendum on whether the peninsula should split off from Ukraine and become part of Russia. "This referendum, organised under force and constraint, is not legitimate," declared Hannes Swoboda (Austria), leader of the Socialists & Democrats group. "This referendum is illegal and its result will not be valid," acquiesced Stefan Fule, commissioner for enlargement, during a debate, on 12 March in Strasbourg. "It is a major threat to international order."

MEPs were nearly unanimous in the view that Russia's attitude contravened international law and the 'Helsinki declaration' of 1975, which states that borders may be changed only by peaceful means and by agreement. "International mediation through the OSCE and the UN would be decisive to guarantee Ukrainian sovereignty," proposed Jose Ignacio Salafranca (EPP, Spain). "The debate is too focused on the question of the international legality of the referendum in Crimea," regretted Arnaud Danjean (EPP, France), chair of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence (SEDE). "That's the wrong question because international law is open to numerous interpretations. What is indisputable is that this referendum is illegal because it is organised in the context of a military invasion. It is time to take action, to impose firm and determined sanctions," he proposed. MEPs suggested a large range of measures: at the bottom of the scale, Michael Gahler (EPP, Germany) proposed the "cancellation of the permanent visas of certain Russian nationals and the freezing of their bank accounts". "When they can no longer go shopping in Baden-Baden or Paris, tremendous pressure will be exerted." European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso took a more severe approach, warning: "If the Russian Federation continues down this road, there will be very clear consequences. Preparation for the G8 summit has already been suspended."

EU membership not on agenda

The prospect of a future admission to the EU is not formally set out in the association agreement rejected in late 2013 by ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. If the future Ukrainian government wishes to resume the process, it will have to draw up a new pre-accession strategy, sign a bilateral association agreement, set up a timeframe for adoption of the EU acquis and then formally declare its candidacy. "Nothing will happen for 20 years," predicts Arnaud Danjean, who regrets "that the enlargement commissioner raised hopes of such prospects for Ukraine" up until 2013. "This is a political subject that should not have been left to the Commission to steer," he added.

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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Mar 13, 2014

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