A growing corruption scandal has destabilised EU Parliament, one of the key law-making institutions of the European Union, as it was announced yesterday that four people, one of whom being a vice-president of the Parliament, have been arrested and charged with “corruption, money laundering, and participating in a criminal organisation.”
In this, one of the European Parliament’s worst bribery scandals in history, it is claimed that individuals accepted gifts and money from the FIFA World Cup host Qatar in exchange for influencing political decisions in Qatar’s favour and improving public perceptions of the Gulf nation.
Multiple arrests and 16 property raids took place in Belgium over the weekend, the findings of which were over €600,000 in cash stashed in suitcases along with masses of additional “electronic evidence.”
Doha has rejected allegations of misconduct, with one official claiming that “any association of the Qatari government with the reported claims is baseless and gravely misinformed.”
Several bags full of cash allegedly linked to World Cup host Qatar have been found following the arrest of European Parliament Vice-President Eva Kaili in a corruption probe. pic.twitter.com/3LsQoJtOqA
— DW News (@dwnews) December 10, 2022
Eva Kaili, one of the 14 vice-presidents of the European Parliament and former TV news presenter, is one of the four currently in Belgian police custody.
Following this announcement, Kaili has already been suspended from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and her Greek Pasok party. She has also been stripped of her duties as a vice-president.
Just last month Kaili defended Qatar in Parliament, referring to the nation as “a frontrunner in labour rights,” and alleged that other MEPs were seeking to discriminate against Qatar.
The vice-president also spoke in a video posted to Twitter by state-run Qatar News Agency in support of the nation’s “political transformation and reforms,” which she credits to their World Cup preparations.
Several lawmakers are now pushing for Kaili to be stripped of her parliamentary immunity, one of the most ancient parliamentary guarantees in Europe that protects MEPs from criminal prosecution.
This may not be required though, since parliamentary immunity does not apply in cases where the individual is caught “in flagrante delicto” – or “red-handed” – committing a crime, as Kaili looks to have been.
Others charged reportedly include another EU lawmaker as well as former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri.
It seems this scandal could have taken root some years ago, as Italian MEP Dino Giarrusso claims that he and numerous other legislators in Brussels have been approached by Qatari officials multiple times since 2019.
“They were hoping to improve the country’s reputation especially in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup,” Giarrusso continued.
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The EU institution’s credibility and reputation has unsurprisingly been “very seriously” damaged by the announcement of this scandal that has demonstrated that the Parliament is, at least to some extent, permeable to corruption.
“If we can be bought, if members of the European Parliament and other politicians can be bought to say certain things, to vote in certain ways […] it’s a disgrace and it makes Europe weaker,” affirmed MEP Niels Fuglsang.
As the story continues to unfold and more names of those involved in the bribery are released, it can be expected that faith in the Parliament will be further shattered and calls for drastic change will grow louder.
‘Our European way of life’ certainly does not include praising #Qatar for its reforms, labour standards and human rights merits.
Zero tolerance to corruption! pic.twitter.com/gBQWUlPORe
— Viola von Cramon 🇺🇦🇪🇺 (@ViolavonCramon) December 12, 2022
In terms of what will happen next, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, is scheduled to convene with the heads of Parliament today to deliver a speech addressing the announcements. It is then likely that lawmakers will vote in favour of holding a debate on the scandal.
Tomorrow, Parliament’s Conference of Presidents will meet to discuss terminating Kaili’s mandate as a vice-president.
Furthermore, the vote on granting Qatari nationals visa-free travel to the bloc, which the Parliament were expected to conduct next week, is expected to be suspended following calls from the European People’s Party, the Social Democrats, the Liberals, and the Greens.
As the Belgian police investigation continues, several lawmakers have said that they expect further revelations to drop shortly.
One of the individuals under particular scrutiny, at least by the public, is Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas who has previously tweeted in reference to the “remarkable success” of the Qatari government in achieving “far-reaching reforms.”
It is imperative to the future of the EU institution that this scandal is responded to rapidly; strengthened anti-corruption legislation and an independent ethics regulator are just two of the changes now being called for by bodies such as Transparency International.
As Daniel Freund, MEP and co-chair of the European Parliament’s anti-corruption group, says, “money must not buy influence in the EU […] the suspicion alone is intolerable.” However, whilst this scandal will certainly prove costly to the Parliament in terms of lost public faith and credibility, the institution’s future will be determined by its handling of the situation and how it improves as a consequence to prevent such impropriety from recurring.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: State of the Union debate. Featured Photo Credit: European Parliament.