April 19. 2024. 9:37

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Asset declarations and limits on second jobs needed, say EU lawmakers

EU lawmakers have made a series of new demands for the revamp of the European Parliament’s transparency regime including mandatory asset declarations and financial sanctions for code of conduct breaches.

At their plenary session in Strasbourg on Thursday (16 February), MEPs backed two resolutions seeking to toughen the transparency reforms set out by the Parliament’s leadership in January in response to the Qatargate corruption scandal.

The affair, which has seen a handful of sitting and former MEPs and officials arrested and accused of receiving financial inducements from Qatari and Moroccan officials in exchange for political support, has prompted renewed efforts to increase transparency requirements in the Parliament.

EU deputies called for the introduction of asset declarations by MEPs at the beginning and end of each mandate and a ban on any paid activities that could create a conflict of interest with an MEP’s mandate.

They also backed financial sanctions for lawmakers found to have broken the assembly’s code of conduct.

MEPs added that the Parliament’s internal rules should be aligned with the Whistleblower Directive, a law approved in 2019 that applied to national authorities across the EU27 but not EU staff who are instead covered by internal staff regulations.

However, the reform proposals tabled last month by Parliament President Roberta Metsola would not provide whistleblower protection for Parliament officials and MEP staffers.

While MEPs this week repeated their demands for a new independent EU ethics body, originally requested three years ago, this would require a legislative proposal by the European Commission

In the meantime, the Parliament’s own Advisory Committee on the Conduct of Members should be reformed to act as an interim ethics body until it is in place, said lawmakers.

Deputies also approved a new mandate, until the summer, for the special INGE committee on foreign interference and disinformation, to identify the shortcomings in the Parliament’s rules on transparency, integrity, accountability and anti-corruption. The committee will issue its own recommendations for reforms.

There were angry exchanges in Parliament this week revealing the differences between the political groups on the priorities post-Qatargate.

After the centre-right European People’s Party issued statements demanding greater scrutiny into the role, and potential abuse, of NGOs, the Left group accused some MEPs of a “misguided smear campaign against non-governmental organisations”.

The Left has also called for “a ban on Members of the European Parliament performing paid side jobs or activities, in particular as companies’ managers or consultants, or members or directors of their boards of directors or advisory boards”.

Stephane Sejourne, leader of the centrist, liberal Renew Europe group added: “We ask all the political groups in this Parliament and the EU Institutions to be ambitious and bold. I regret that certain political groups, which pretend to be fervent defenders of transparency and ethics, do not back up their grand speeches with action.”

“The EPP group had abstained on the creation of such a body in 2021. And the ECR [European Conservatives and Reformists] group was opposed. We expect better than that,” added Sejourne.