EU attacked for failures over corruption scandal that engulfs bloc

EU: Roberta Metsola says defence union ‘necessary’

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EU institutions’ leaders have been attacked for failing to properly respond to the corruption scandal that has engulfed the European Parliament since last December. The scandal came to light on December 9 after a series of police raids in Brussels and in Italy. Hundreds of thousands of euros in cash were seized in different locations. The allegations have shaken the EU’s only publicly-elected institution and forced an overhaul of its lobbying and access rules.

The corruption scandal hit the spotlight as Qatar hosted the soccer World Cup. The small, energy-rich Gulf nation has seen its international profile rise as Doha used its massive offshore natural gas fields to make the country one of the world’s richest per-capita, and to power its regional political ambitions.

The EU assembly has halted work on files involving Qatar as it investigates what impact the cash-and-gifts-for-influence bribery scandal might have had. Qatar and Morocco deny involvement.

Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) in Paris, accused EU leaders of failing to understand the damage caused by the scandal.

Writing for the constitutional blog Verfassungsblog, he said: “Despite the unprecedented nature of the scandal and damage caused to the Union’s image in the eyes of EU citizens and beyond, the EU institutional response has thus far been modest, essentially short-termist and aimed at deflecting attention away from its most damaging effects.

“On the one hand, the President of the EU Parliament framed the Qatargate as a major attack on democracy. Rather than humbly acknowledging the significant shortcomings of the EU political and ethical system, notably of that applicable to the assembly she presides, Roberta Metsola preferred to divert blame to third-countries.

“On the other hand, the EU Commission President appeared relieved that the scandal did not affect her own institution. Since the average EU citizen fails to distinguish between the EU Parliament and the Commission, they will likely perceive Qatargate as a major system failure of the entire EU project.

“As for the Council, it skillfully avoided to formally discuss the issue with EU leaders, gathering in December’s EU Council, also dismissed the events as a Parliament’s problem. Even as each member of the EU Council is also a political leader belonging to the very same political party system invested in the scandal.”

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He concluded: “Amid the disappointing procedure that led to the choice of Ursula von der Leyen as Commission President – in manifest breach of the Spitzenkandidaten process –, EU leaders can hardly afford to miss this unique opportunity to prepare a convincing answer to the question many citizens will soon be asking: Why vote in the next EU Parliament’s election in 2024?”

Responding to the scandal, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said that “open, free, democratic societies are under attack”.

While, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the matter was “very serious” and called for a new ethics body.

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In January, Ms Metsola said she wants to prevent former MEPs from lobbying on behalf of businesses or governments soon after they leave office and to make public the names of current members who break assembly rules.

She also sought tougher checks on lobbyists and the public listing of any meetings that lawmakers may have with them, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the measures haven’t yet been endorsed by parliament.

Those charged by the authorities include a member of the parliament, Eva Kaili, and her boyfriend Francesco Giorgi, an assistant there. They are accused of working with former EU lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri who, according to an arrest warrant, “is suspected of intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco” in exchange for payment.

Senior MEPs later agreed to press ahead with a major overhaul of the rules governing access to the European Parliament and the way it deals with lobbyists.

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