The “shocking corruption scandal” raises questions about lobbying rules in the European Parliament

It was an incandescent speech delivered by MEP Eva Kaili at the end of November in the main hall of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The social democratic activist told her colleagues that all negative reports about expatriate workers in Qatar are totally unjustified. The country was, in fact, a pioneer on workers’ rights and an important global “peace negotiator,” Kylie asserted. “It’s about a new generation of smart, highly educated people,” said the Greek.

Last Friday, Kylie was arrested by the Belgian police. Belgian media quickly reported that the suspicions included bribery from Qatar, the Gulf state where the World Cup is being held. The Greek MEP, who is also the vice-president of the European Parliament, is the prime suspect in a corruption scandal that is shaking Brussels to its foundations these days. Alberto Alemanno, Professor of Law at HEC Paris, talks about “the most shocking integrity scandal in the history of the European Union”.

On Friday, the Belgian police carried out sixteen house searches in different neighborhoods of Brussels. Six people were arrested and €600,000 in cash was confiscated. Kylie is the only MEP to be arrested. However, a house search was carried out on Saturday evening in the home of Belgian MP Marc Tarabella, also of the Social Democrats. On Sunday, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced the release of two people and the trial of the other four. Among them is Kylie.

large sums of money

Much remains unclear about the exact suspicions: Belgium’s public prosecutor only officially reported on Friday that an investigation had been underway for months into how “a Gulf state influenced the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament,” including through “large payments or large gifts.” “. Belgian media talent And the le bracelet On the basis of sources for the judiciary, the investigation is focused in particular on the Italian, Pier Antonio Panziri. He was a member of the Social Democratic Parliament until 2019 and is currently the head of his NGO Fighting Impunity, which aims to combat human rights abuses. Italian media reported that his wife and daughter were also arrested in Italy on Friday.

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There is an uproar in Brussels that the bribery may be linked to a vote next week in which the European Parliament will decide on visa-free travel between Qatar and the EU. The vote has since been taken off the agenda in connection with the investigation.

The scandal is painful for the Social Democratic group, which also includes PvdA, now that almost all of the suspects appear to have a connection to that group. Kylie was expelled by her Greek Socialist Party on Friday night and the group of Social Democrats in the European Parliament announced the immediate suspension. PvdA MEP and Social Democratic Group Vice President Mohamed Shahim talk about a “nightmare” in response. “It is absolutely unacceptable for this to happen. The only person whose interests we can take into account is the voter.”

One person can destroy the reputation of an entire European institution: this shows how serious the matter is

At the same time, lobby observers stress how the scandal also reveals something about the European Parliament’s weakness for influence. This is not an unknown problem: the European Parliament consists of more than seven hundred people with many staff and assistants from different political cultures. The fear that there could be a weak link between them has been around for some time.

Moral system

The revelations show, says Vitor Teixeira, “how broken the moral system in the European Parliament is”. Teixeira works for the NGO Transparency International and Recently published a report About the lack of oversight of lobbying in the European Parliament. According to him, the lack of rules means that little attention is paid to impact risks. In addition: the existing rules are poorly enforced and the penalties never applied. “Lobbyists can freely enter the parliament building with a pass, but who they talk to is not entirely clear. At the start of their term, MEPs receive an email asking them to post their meetings with lobbyists. But there is a complete lack of monitoring of that.”

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In addition, meetings with representatives of “third countries” are exempt from pressure rules: they are considered “diplomatic relations”. Teixeira: „But if Qatar does this, you can assume: at least many countries will try it. And that could be related to more serious matters.”

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For example, according to lobby watchers, the scandal is another warning sign that the current rules in Brussels are not enough. The revelation that former European Commissioner and VVD politician Neely Croese was lobbying against the rules of taxi company Uber was a case in point a few months ago. Transparency International, among others, has been calling for years for the creation of an independent ethics body that could investigate and impose sanctions. Although the President of the European Commission promised to create such a body when she took office, this has yet to happen – to the chagrin of lobby observers and critical MEPs. Teixeira believes that the European Parliament should bring its own body if necessary. This scandal shows that we can no longer wait. One person can now ruin the reputation of the entire EU institution – it really shows the seriousness of the matter.”

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