It is no great surprise that the European Parliament has a corruption problem


The European Union has spent the last few days with one of the worst scandals that has affected Brussels in decades.

Belgian police said late last week that they had carried out raids and arrested four people in connection with an ongoing corruption investigation into alleged payments and gifts from Qatar to members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and their staff.

The investigation points to alleged acts of “corruption” and “money laundering” by an organized group that aims to “influence the economic and political decisions of the European Parliament” through money and gifts, reports the Belgian public broadcaster and CNN affiliate RTBF, citing prosecutors. . .

The most prominent of those arrested is the Greek MEP Eva Kaili, who at the time of her arrest was one of the 14 vice-presidents of the Parliament, a role from which she has since been removed. Both Qatar and Kaili have denied any wrongdoing.

Kaili failed to appear at a scheduled hearing on Wednesday and was detained until she appeared in court on December 22, Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors confirmed on Wednesday that a “large-scale investigation” was underway into alleged criminal activity, corruption and money laundering at the European Parliament. Kaili and three others were arrested on Friday as part of an ongoing corruption investigation into alleged Qatari payments and gifts to members and staff of parliament by the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office.

Kaili, who has spoken in defense of Qatar in the European Parliament, traveled to Qatar shortly before the start of the soccer World Cup.

Responding to criticism of Qatar over allegations of human rights violations and its treatment of migrant workers, Kaili told MEPs on November 21: “Today, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is proof of how sports diplomacy can lead to a historic transformation of a country whose reforms have inspired the Arab world… Qatar is a leader in labor rights.”

The Belgian Federal Police posted on its official Twitter account on Wednesday an image of what it said was some of the cash that has been seized as part of the investigation.

“As part of a case by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office on suspicion of corruption by people active in the European Parliament, the Federal Judicial Police seized nearly 1.5 million euros during searches carried out in the Brussels region them,” the Belgian Federal Police said in a tweet.

Although this scandal has shaken Brussels, the allegations have not come as much of a surprise to those familiar with European institutions, especially the Parliament.

“Parliament has tolerated a culture of impunity for years,” says Nicholas Aiossa, deputy director of Transparency International EU, an anti-corruption organisation. “There is virtually no oversight or repercussions on how MEPs spend their allowances and we have seen these funds used so many times.”

Aiossa believes that institutional corruption is only a small part of what would make an MEP such an attractive target for those who want to influence European politics.

“Parliament collectively has a lot of power over the direction of policy which provides access to a huge market of over 400 million citizens. MEPs themselves, however, often have a very low profile outside the Brussels bubble , which probably helps avoid scrutiny.”

It is not only in politics that MEPs can use their position to take advantage of power. Bill Newton Dunn, a former British MEP, explains that “when the European Parliament publishes a resolution on an important issue, the international media often pick it up as the voice of Europe. Collectively, MEPs’ voices carry weight.”

In fact, Kaili’s intervention on November 21st in support of Qatar came during the debate on a resolution on human rights in Qatar before the World Cup. Finally, the resolution was approved three days later.

Katalin Cseh, a sitting Hungarian MEP who negotiated the drafting of the resolution, told CNN that publishing it was particularly difficult because MEPs from the two main groups in Parliament resisted being too tough on Qatar.

“In retrospect, knowing what we know now, it’s very alarming that my colleagues were pushing this resolution so hard. It’s disturbing that the influence of third-party autocrats has infiltrated our negotiations.”

It will probably be a while before we know exactly what happened and if lobbying rules were broken. If reforms are to be made, the process will undoubtedly be painful and arduous.

However, activists who have been pushing for anti-corruption reforms for years can take solace in the fact that this scandal broke at exactly the right time for it to receive maximum coverage, something that so often eludes the remote bubble of politics. Brussels. .

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