A Theme Park in the Crimea

by Andrew Stuttaford

That the EU’s relentless progress towards an ‘ever closer union’ has hollowed out and distorted the politics of many of the democracies of Western Europe ought by now to be far from news. And nor should the fact that the refusal of the EU’s establishment parties to deviate from eurofederalist orthodoxy (despite the disasters of recent years) has driven some voters to throw their support behind parties at which they once would never have considered even looking. A further twist to this tale has come from the way that the politics of these outsider parties have in turn been themselves been distorted by the seemingly unstoppable encroachments of the European superstate, encroachments that have, however perversely, however wrongly, come to make even Vladimir Putin seem, by comparison, oddly congenial.

The Financial Times has a report on just the latest example of this.

A French populist-conservative politician and investor has agreed to build a historic theme park in the Russian-annexed territory of Crimea together with a patriotic Russian financier who has been linked to pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

The deal between Philippe de Villiers, leader of the eurosceptic Mouvement pour la France party, and Konstantin Malofeev, a key figure in Russian orthodox conservative circles who support expansionist ideologies, is certain to reignite controversy in Europe over supporting a regime the EU is trying to punish with sanctions.

The Crimean government said Mr de Villiers, Mr Malofeev and Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-appointed head of the Crimean government, had signed a memorandum of understanding under which Mr de Villiers’ company Puy du Fou International and Mr Malofeev would invest at least Rbs4bn ($110m) in the park.

Legal experts in Moscow said Mr de Villiers’ planned Crimean venture constituted an open defiance of EU sanctions. Both Mr Malofeev and Mr Aksyonov are blacklisted under EU sanctions against individuals helping or supporting Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

Under the regulation, EU citizens are barred from making any funds or economic resources available to a blacklisted individual. In addition, the EU has also banned technical and financial assistance for projects in Crimea and joint ventures in transport, energy and telecommunications on the peninsula.

“Even if the Crimea-specific provision does not apply to a theme park, which is not entirely clear, the one regarding the blacklist does – an EU person cannot do any business with these people, full stop,” said a foreign lawyer in Moscow. He said there was “no way” the planned theme park could go ahead under the EU sanctions, but added that the agreement was just a memorandum of understanding, there might be no legal consequences for Mr de Villiers yet. “This is just a gigantic PR stunt,” he said.

In a press release, Mr de Villiers did not mention EU restrictions but instead expressed his hope that the project would not be blocked by US sanctions.

“Sanctions are acts of war. Co-operation is an act of peace. We have come to deliver an act of peace,” he said in the release. He added: “The future of Europe is not written on the American continent. It is written on the European continent. Europe has no future without Russia.”

Mr de Villiers, a former communications minister in the government of Jacques Chirac, is a well-known conservative who opposes the EU and, more recently, has spoken out against Islam in France….

Those with long memories may recall that the EU was meant to reinforce the political stability of Europe. That it is now, however inadvertently, helping Putin find some sort of opening in the West is just the latest reminder of how badly matters have gone awry.