Konstantin Kosachev: Russian-French report offers a good example of constructive inter-parliamentary cooperation

Russian and French MPs presented a report in Paris on the current state and prospects of the two countries’ relations.

The French Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces Committee and the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs held their third joint meeting in the expanded format in Paris.

The event was dedicated to the presentation of the unique parliamentary initiative on preparing a bilateral report on the current state and prospects of Russian-French relations. The preparation of the report was pursued as a follow-up on the agreements between Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko and President of the Senate of France Gérard Larcher on joint work of the respective committees.

Taking part in the discussion of the report on behalf of the Federation Council were Chair of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs Konstantin Kosachev, Deputy Chair of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs Sergei Kislyak, Chair of the Interim Commission for the Protection of State Sovereignty and the Prevention of Interference in the Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation Andrei Klimov, member of the Federation Council Committee on Social Policy Tatyana Lebedeva, and member of the Federation Council Committee on Economic Policy Alexei Dmitriyenko.

In his opening remarks, Deputy Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces Christian Cambon stressed that Russian-French relations were rooted in centuries-long history. “They are resting on significant moments which are deeply imprinted in our peoples’ memory,” the parliamentarian said.

Konstantin Kosachev, in turn, noted that Russian-French relations were currently going through difficult times. Despite the emphasised commitment of the two countries’ Presidents to constructive development of political relations demonstrated during the 29 May 2017 summit in Versailles, a number of factors are objectively impeding this dialogue. For example, the image of Russia is cultivated at the official level as a “country with an authoritarian type of government,” where political opposition is allegedly harassed, freedom of speech is stifled and norms of the rule of law state are not followed. “Building our future relations on such a foundation is unlikely to succeed. We have to change the core sentiment – from confrontation and containment of Russia to a search for mutually beneficial and reciprocally acceptable cooperation,” the Senator said.

Konstantin Kosachev stressed that a common view was not reached on all the items on the agenda whereas disagreements on a number of issues had been insurmountable so far.

However, the Federation Council Committee’s Chair underscored that Russian and French MPs shared the view that the atmosphere in Europe and in the world depended to a great degree on how trust-based the political dialogue between our countries was.

Sergei Kislyak analysed the relations between Russia and France in providing European security. The Senator drew attention to the fact that European security was still perceived in a fragmentary way through a lens of closed military, political and economic clubs which barred any outsiders. The principle of Russia containment was groundlessly dominating NATO. “We need to think about what kind of Europe we all need,” Sergei Kislyak said.

Andrei Klimov particularly focused on the fact that the escalation of tensions in the world, with an information war as one of its signs, could not but influence the Russian-French relations in this area. “However, despite the lower level and volume of political dialogue, relations in culture and science have demonstrated stability and are going through geopolitical challenges unhindered. They continue to be a kind of an in-built stabiliser for the entire range of Russian-French relations,” the MP said.

Alexei Dmitriyenko’s remarks were dedicated to economic and trade issues since economic ties and investment projects remained the foundation for the overall bilateral relations. In the past years, EU sanctions have had a negative effect on trade and economic cooperation between Russia and France. On the whole, trade halved from $28.1bn in 2011 to $13.3bn in 2016. “The bilateral trade relations have significant imbalances just as relations with the EU countries do. Trade is still skewed. Despite complicated foreign economic conditions, Russia and France are important partners in trade and the economy,” Alexei Dmitriyenko said.

Interregional relations is one of the most successful areas in the overall context of the bilateral relations. Tatyana Lebedeva focused on this part of the report in her speech. Russia’s 80 regions maintain economic relations with France, and ten of them are most active in focusing on increasing bilateral turnover. These regions are Moscow, St Petersburg, Moscow Region, Leningrad, Volgograd, Sverdlovsk and Nizhny Novgorod regions, Krasnodar Territory, Republic of Tatarstan and Udmurtian Republic. As of today, French and Russian regions have signed over 40 agreements with several more being finalised. The contacts of the Volgograd Region are particularly remarkable in this context. Tatyana Lebedeva, a Volgograd Region representative in the Federation Council, highlighted the region’s experience in that area.

The senators suggested a series of recommendations in the report to restore confidence between Russia and France. The parties agreed to assist in bringing the relations of two large European nations, Russia and France, to the highest possible level so that they could be a model for Russia’s relations with other European Union countries and for France’s relations with the Eurasian Economic Union nations.

In addition, possible parliamentary consultations were discussed on establishing conditions for holding Helsinki 2.0, a new European security and cooperation conference (for example, within the OSCE framework) to work a common understanding of “indivisible security” and a common strategy of relations in greater Europe.

The Russian and French MPs also consider important the work on convening a joint forum for Russian and French regions in order to expand interregional and inter-cultural cooperation.

The report “Russia-France: Restoring Trust Through Parliamentary Dialogue” has been prepared for the first time by the two chambers of Parliament in Russian and in French.