Page last updated at 19:38 GMT, Wednesday, 1 February 2012

MEPs attack 'failed' EU policy on Russia

The EU's policy towards Russia "has failed", according to MEPs speaking during a debate on 1 February 2012.

Polish centre-right MEP Pawel Zalewski said the world could no longer look to the EU for pushing democratic and political reform. He pointed to ongoing protests in Russia as evidence that opposition to the current Russian leadership may be growing domestically.

Mr Zalewski was backed up by Irish MEP Sean Kelly who said that "change has to come from within Russia itself".

The debate followed a statement by EU High Representative Baroness Ashton, following the country's disputed parliamentary elections in December 2011.

Official results from the vote gave Mr Putin's party just under 50% of the vote, down sharply from 64% at the previous election in 2007.

However Baroness Ashton pointed to reports by observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) who said the polls were slanted in favour of the pro-Kremlin party United Russia.

"Some limited political reforms have been launched, but people want to see real change," she told MEPs.

The Russian authorities were criticised by MEPs from across the political spectrum for banning several opposition parties.

Baroness Ashton's statement also looked ahead to the country's presidential election in March, in which Prime Minister Putin is seen as front-runner.

She said the leadership should act swiftly "and ensure it does its utmost to hold free and fair presidential elections".

Meanwhile Dutch centre-right MEP Ria Oomen-Rujten said the EU needed to take a tougher stance towards Moscow.

"If Russia wants to be up to date and prosperous, it needs to work like a proper democracy with proper freedoms", she said.

Vladimir Putin held the country's presidency between 2000 and 2008, but had to stand down, as Russian law prohibits anyone from serving two consecutive terms as president.

Useful links:

Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work.

A disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations, on the European Parliament's website.

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