Life after Qatargate: The European Parliament is taking anti-corruption measures – Will it be enough?

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On the occasion of the Qatargate scandal that is shaking the European Parliament, the President of the House Roberta Metsola proposes anti-corruption measures

A month has passed since the first revelations of Qatargate and the echo has not stopped in Brussels. On Wednesday, Belgian MEP Marie Arena – although no waiver of her immunity has been requested – resigned as chair of the Human Rights subcommittee on the grounds that she had failed to inform Parliament of an earlier all-expenses-paid trip to Qatar. Emirate.

On December 9, the Belgian police had carried out raids in Brussels and arrested suspects in corruption cases, while confiscating sums of money amounting to 1.5 million euros. Four of the accused were remanded in custody and are now called to account in court. Among them is the Greek former vice-president of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili. Her successor will be elected next Wednesday at the Strasbourg Plenary.

Life after Qatargate

After the initial shock, the MEPs try to get their house together. The timing is critical, as Parliament faces the biggest “crisis of legitimacy” in its history, just a year and a half before the next European elections. House President Roberta Metzola has already drafted a 14-point anti-corruption plan, which she initially presented to political group leaders behind closed doors last Tuesday. He then addressed the following message via Twitter: “Integrity. Independence. Accountability. We will move quickly.”

Among other things, a “transitional period” is foreseen, during which former members of the European Parliament will not be able to use its contacts for lobbying and related activities. Other measures under discussion are the abolition of unofficial “friendship groups” with third countries, as well as the establishment of stricter regulations for the recording of appointments with lobbyists and indeed for all members of the European Parliament and not only for the presidents of the Committees or the rapporteurs in the legislative work procedures.

According to Metsola’s representative, the president will present her proposals in detail on Monday, at the start of the work of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The political groups of the Greens, the Left and the European Socialists and Democrats (who are at the center of the scandal and are expected to soon launch an internal investigation to further investigate the case) have already said that they do not consider the measures to be sufficient.

“There were dozens of violations of the regulations”

Daniel Freud, leader of the Greens and co-chair of the informal “anti-corruption taskforce” says his first reaction to Qatargate was “disappointment” but not “shock” or surprise. In the last 40 years or so, when the European Parliament is the only directly elected body of the EU, he points out, other irregularities have been recorded, such as the “cash for amendments” scandal in 2011, when investigative journalists caught MEPs “in the act” collecting sums of money to table amendments with specific content. Also, says the German MEP to Deutsche Welle, “in the last ten years we have had 24 cases, minor of course, in which MEPs violated our internal rules, but none of them have been sanctioned”.

Daniel Freud warns of possible political implications of Qatargate. “When a similar case is presented in a national Parliament, obviously no one demands the abolition of the Parliament,” he says. “But here, as soon as the scandal breaks, Brexiteer Nigel Farage and Hungary’s Eurosceptic Viktor Orbán immediately come out to extol the ‘corrupt Parliament’ and call for its abolition.”

Red tape risk?

In the past, some proposals for more transparency were rejected by the majority of MEPs and especially by political forces to the right of the Centre, who sounded the alarm saying that excessive bureaucracy would prevent those interested from applying for a seat in the European Parliament. Daniel Freud does not accept the argument. “I mean, sorry, will the other person refuse to become an MEP because they ask him to fill in a few additional documents?” he wonders.

Transparency International also criticizes the current payment and compensation regime for MEPs, which provides, among other things, for an amount of around 5,000 euros per month for operating expenses of their offices, which is paid without receipts. Otherwise, Transparency International notes that the Metsola proposals are “good”, but do not negate the logic of internal control. Along the same lines, Daniel Freud appeals for external control “by an independent Authority”.

The optimistic side

If one wants to be optimistic, one could see Qatargate as a welcome occasion for a change of course. But Green MEP Daniel Freud still has reservations. At the moment, he points out, there is intense pressure as many MEPs want to turn the page and restore the House’s international standing as soon as possible. The question is whether this will will prove equally strong when the time comes for the vote in the Plenary of the European Parliament. “If you ask me right now, I’m not sure that’s going to happen,” Freud points out.

DW – Ela Joiner/ Yiannis Papadimitriou

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