12th July, 2012
Written question to the commission
By Satu Hassi, Tarja Cronberg, Michèle Rivasi, Werner Schulz, (Greens/EFA) and Corinne Lepage (ALDE)
The French company Vinci is the leader of a consortium known as the North West Concession Company (NWCC), which has signed a concession contract for the first section of a motorway between Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia. The road is routed through the Khimki Forest, one of the last remaining forests of important natural value in the Moscow region. There is a strong local opposition against this routing.
In 2011, an investigation carried out by the well known NGO network CEE Bankwatch (1) showed that the Concession Company is made up of a complex web of offshore entities and tax havens. Suspicions of corruption have been vindicated by the fact that the Russian government changed the status of the Khimki forest illegally to allow for the chosen routing. While it has been widely recognised that the route is not the most advantageous, private interests in property development and favours to those involved with close ties to President Vladimir Putin appear to have ruled the decision rather than public interests.
At the same time, there have been serious human rights abuses. Local activists involved in peaceful campaigning to change the routing have encountered threats and physical violence by the police.
– Is the Commission aware of the involvement of the French company in this controversial project?
– What conclusions does the Commission draw from the presented Bankwatch report?
– Do the activities of Vinci in this project violate existing EU legislation?
– Does the Commission plan to take measures with regards to Vinci's activities in this project?
Answer given by High Representative/Vice President Ashton
on behalf of the Commission (28.8.2012)
The EU is following the developments concerning the Khimki Forest and its defence movement very closely and is therefore aware of the involvement of the company mentioned by the Honourable Members in this project.
The EU has taken note of the CEE Bankwatch Report but is not in a position to draw specific conclusions from it. Allegations of corruption must be addressed to the national authorities. In this context, it should be noted that both the EBRD and the EIB withdrew from this project in 2010.
The EU will continue to pursue activities to support the fight against corruption in Russia. A first EU-Russia anti-corruption expert meeting took place in December 2011 in Moscow. The EU intends to follow up on this first meeting and organise a broader seminar in autumn in Brussels with the involvement of civil society, including the Khimki Forest defence movement. Further anti-corruption activities are foreseen in the context of the EU-Russia Partnership for Modernization.
The EU has also been raising concerns over the human rights abuses in the context of the developments relating to the Khimki forest defense, as well as the general situation with regard to the freedom of speech and assembly in Russia. This has been discussed at the last EU-Russia Summit in St Petersburg. Rule of law questions have also been addressed in greater detail at the last Human Rights consultations taking place on 20 July.
The EU Delegation in Moscow is in close and regular contact on the developments in the Khimki Forest case with both the Russian authorities and the Khimki defense movement.