Belgium, (Brussels Morning newspaper) The recent Qatargate scandal revealed the bribes scheme Qatar delivered to European politicians and employees and stormed the discussion in the European Parliament. It raised issues concerning NGOs’ activities defending foreign powers’ interests. The investigations have so far shown that one or more NGOs were established to facilitate direct bribes from Qatar to socialist politicians, thus covering up a criminal organization.
This was a shocking attempt to influence decision-making at the European level in favor of a foreign actor. Qatargate showed the importance of having clear rules governing the activities of NGOs in the EP.
The green Foundation financed by Gazprom
This case is by no means the first or the only one of its kind. But surprisingly, we do not hear about other instances of illegal interference through NGOs, even though security is currently the top priority for Europe.
We should also not assume that this problem can or should be resolved by the European Parliament only. Illegal lobbying primarily happens in member states, and Russia has long been using NGOs to promote its power interests. After all, this is at least what the recent case in Germany reveals.
It turned out that the Stiftung Klima- und Umweltschutz MV (Foundation for Climate and Environmental Protection) received money from Gazprom. Stiftung Klima- und Umweltschutz MV was purposefully established as a foundation by the government of the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania at the initiative of the Social Democratic Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig in January 2021 when the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was almost completed. The foundation’s activities were supposed to support gas as a bridging technology to cleaner renewable fuels. The reality was significantly different.
Reasonable suspicion arises from the foundation’s financing alone. According to the regional public audit office, the government of the aforementioned federal-state contributed to its activities by investing €200,000 in the foundation. What is more, interesting is that the foundation was also supposed to receive €20 million from the Swiss company Nord Stream 2 AG, owned by Gazprom.
As Mario Czaja of the Christian Democrats (CDU) opposition recently stated in the Federal Parliament (Bundestag), “instead of focusing on climate protection, the foundation aimed to put Nord Stream 2 into operation at any cost, bypass any sanctions and facilitate the business of Russian state company.”
The foundation was directly involved in constructing the gas pipeline, awarding contracts, and paying suppliers. It also purchased the “blue ship,” which was used to attach the pipes to the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
Part of Putin’s strategy
No one could have been surprised by this case. The Kremlin had long used NGOs to pursue its own interests on both sides of the Atlantic. The purpose was primarily to support those green organizations fighting against shale gas and oil fracking, thus undermining efforts to liberate themselves from dependence on Russia. Putin had used this strategy for a long time, but the threat was not being taken seriously.
Nine years ago, in 2014, the British newspaper The Guardian quoted NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who stated that he had “met with allies who could report that Russia actively cooperated with so-called non-governmental organizations – environmental organizations fighting against shale gas – as part of its sophisticated information and disinformation operations to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
A study by the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in 2016 also clearly mentions that shale gas extraction in the EU would represent a significant blow to Russia due to its financial dependence on gas exports to the EU. The Russian government, therefore, invested €82 million in non-governmental organizations whose task was to convince EU governments to abandon plans to extract shale gas.
By influencing public opinion and European policy against fossil fuel fracking, Russia wanted to ensure that its oil and gas producers would not face greater competition and could continue charging higher prices, thus securing greater profits.
Therefore, Russia aimed to keep Europe even more dependent on Russian fossil fuels, with some environmental organizations serving as useful idiots. Adding the foolish policies of many European leaders who relied directly on Russian gas from Nord Stream into a mixture, Europe had created a house of cards, which collapsed shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
Most NGOs are dedicated to activities that benefit society as a whole. Unfortunately, this is not true of all of them. Some may serve the interests of hostile powers. The lessons learned from the Qatargate and the cases mentioned should be the following: Foreign powers frequently use non-governmental organizations, which deserves more attention. Non-governmental organizations advocating political goals must be transparent. The EP has already begun to address the problem following the Qatargate scandal. It is also in the interest of individual member states to introduce clear rules for their activities if such regulations still need to be created.