The lead spokeswoman for newly installed EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini is married to a partner in a Brussels public relations firm that lobbies for Russian state-owned natural-gas monopoly Gazprom.
Spokesperson Catherine Ray married Thomas Barros-Tastets in France on October 19, 2013. Barros-Tastets is a partner in the Brussels branch of the G+ lobbying firm. His online biography states that he "helps to coordinate the European part of a worldwide consortium which advises a major international energy company on communications and public affairs."
Although the "major international energy company" is not named, Barros-Tastets is frequently referenced in the media as "a consultant in European public affairs for Gazprom." An August 2013 announcement that he was appointed a partner at G+ states that he "is an adviser to Gazprom in its dealings with the EU competition authorities."
The EU's Transparency Register lists "Diversified Energy Communications (for Gazprom Export)" as one of G+'s major clients, generating annual turnover of between 300,000 and 350,000 euros. Barros-Tastets is listed there as one of the firm's employees "accredited for access to European Parliament premises."
Barros-Tastets was seen in the company of Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak in Brussels on October 29, when Novak was in town for gas negotiations with EU and Ukrainian officials.
Margaritis Schinas, the chief spokesman of the European Commission, who participated in the process of vetting Ray for her position, told RFE/RL in written comments that Ray informed the EU about her husband's professional activities, including his work for Gazprom.
"Ray followed the ethics procedure as requested by the European Commission," he wrote. He added that Mogherini "was involved" in the process of selecting Ray, but did not nominate Ray.
Schinas noted that Ray is charged with "speaking on Africa, Latin America, and Gulf countries." Fellow foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic speaks for Mogherini on European affairs, including Russia.
"We therefore do not believe there is a potential conflict of interest with…Ray's duties at the commission," Schinas wrote.
Nonetheless, a statement issued by Mogherini's office on November 9 about military convoys sighted by the OSCE in eastern Ukraine included Ray's name and contact details.
Ray had earlier declined requests to comment for this article.
Former Italian Foreign Minister Frederica Mogherini was a controversial choice to replace Catherine Ashton as the European Union's foreign policy chief. Critics viewed her as politically inexperienced and, possibly, too willing to make accommodations to Russia's Vladimir Putin.
"I was particularly worried by what seemed to be her blind spot toward Putin," says Edward Lucas, senior editor for energy, commodities, and natural resources at "The Economist," who argued against Mogherini's candidacy on social media during the summer. "She seemed to like Putin, to get on with him, and to not really see the world from the perspective of the European Union countries neighboring Russia."
Lucas and other EU watchers argued that the foreign policy post should go to someone from Central Europe such as Radek Sikorski, the current speaker of Poland's parliament who was then the country's foreign minister.
Mogherini, 41, is a relatively inexperienced politician who was picked by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi as foreign minister in February. Just a few months later, Renzi lobbied strenuously and successfully in the EU to have her replace Ashton.
Renzi was the only EU head of government who argued against further sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine at the EU summit in Brussels in October. Renzi has also lobbied in support of the Gazprom-backed South Stream gas-pipeline project that would supply Russian gas to Italy and other EU countries via Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania. The European Commission ruled in December 2013 that the intergovernmental agreements with Russia on the construction of the pipeline were all in violation of EU regulations on competition and nondiscriminatory access of third parties.
The European Union has set itself the goal of reducing its dependence on Gazprom. The EU receives approximately one-third of its gas from Russia.
Catherine Ray has been working in communications for the EU since 2000, as well as a brief stint at the United Nations Development Program in 2007-08. She has served as spokeswoman for EU commissioners Pascal Lamy, Janez Potocnik, and Andris Piebalgs.