June 21. 2024. 6:19

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EU Lawmaker: Qatargate damaged European Parliament’s reputation

The Qatargate scandal has damaged the reputation and credibility of Europe’s house of democracy as it is the only EU institution where members are elected by citizens, Swedish Member of European Parliament (MEP) Abir al-Sahlani told EURACTIV in an interview.

In December 2022, reports surfaced that Qatari officials paid European politicians top bribes to curry favour and influence in Brussels.

As several top EU politicians have been put under investigation or arrested, the scandal is shaping up to be one of the biggest to have rocked European institutions.

“Qatar gate has undoubtedly damaged the reputation and credibility of the only house of democracy. The European Parliament is the only directly elected institution in the EU by our citizens. So that has been very damaging,” al-Sahlani said.

Parliament will be ‘more transparent, modern and open’, says Metsola

Roberta Metsola has vowed to use the Parliament’s response to the so-called ‘Qatargate’ scandal to make the institution “more visible, more effective, more transparent, more modern and more open”.

However, al-Sahlani thinks it is positive that a spotlight is shining on previously stalled discussions over an EU Ethics Body and hopes it will lay foundations for “what can be done when it comes to preventing corruption within the [European] Parliament.”

The EU Parliament already has a code of conduct. “We know what is a crime and what it is not. Still, there is no enforcement,” al-Sahlani said.

The Ethics Body

In 2019, a proposal to create a body to monitor ethics in Parliament was put on the table of the EU Commission, but “there was no delivery”, said the Swedish lawmaker. Then in 2021, Parliament passed a resolution which called for the creation of an EU Ethics Body once again to enforce the existing code of conduct and to prosecute corruption cases.

But as EURACTIV reported, the issue was almost ignored by the EU Commission until Quatargate: a few days after the scandal, EU Commission Chief Ursula Von der Leyen called for an EU Ethics Body with “not only strong rules but the same rules covering all the EU institutions and not to allow for any exemptions”.

According to the Renew Europe MEP, it could “actually enforce the moral Code of Conduct that we have.”

The EU Ethics Body should be composed of nine independent personalities appointed by the Commission and Parliament, as well as the Ombudsman and the EU Court of Justice, explained Al-Sahlani.

“What we wanted them to actually have two major tasks: One is to propose concrete measures on how to prevent a breach, but also what to do in case a breach is discovered. And within 20 days, if no measures have been taken, then the case should be given to the law enforcement authority,” the MEP illustrated.

“And the second is to protect the whistleblowers” and guarantee their safety, she said.

Metsola’s plan

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola proposed a 14-point plan to reform the chamber in light of Qatargate on 14 January to the Conference of Presidents (CoP), which drafts the plenary agenda every week. It is composed of the groups’ leaders and the president of the EU Parliament.

MEP ‘friendship’ groups with foreign countries to be banned post-Qatargate

‘Friendship’ groups of MEPs with countries outside the EU will be banned under new plans to improve transparency in the European Parliament in the wake of the Qatargate bribery scandal.

The discussion of such points is ongoing, and new developments are expected to come on the occasion of the next CoP on Thursday (9 February).

The President of the Renew Europe group Stéphane Séjourné told EURACTIV the group would ask the CoP for a debate in the plenary session over creating “inter-institutional Ethics Body”.

Al-Sahlani criticised the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the right-wing European Conservatives (ECR) and Reformists groups after the former abstained and the latter voted against the Ethics Body at the 14 January CoP meeting.

The boomerang effect of looking for transparency?

But according to al-Sahlani, some of Metsola’ proposals could result in less transparency, in particular, related to the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET), which is at the heart of the scandal.

For instance, on urgent resolutions, the text proposes not to involve any MEPs in AFET if they are not officially part of it. The Swedish MEP thinks that such a proposal can, on the contrary, decrease transparency of the AFET’ works, as it reduces MEP participation.

I am very passionate about the defence of human rights. But I am not a member of [AFET]. And one of the proposals is that if you are not [a member], then you should not be debating urgent resolutions”.

Resolutions are non-legislative texts that the EU Parliament votes on during plenary sessions, which usually state the position of the chamber on a specific situation, for instance, the human rights situation in a non-EU country. Such texts often have a huge impact on those countries, as EURACTIV reported.

“I hope that we do not, in our willingness to increase transparency, take on measures that are actually not helping transparency”, Al Sahlani explained.