The Brief — EU Parliament will pay a high price for low ambition on Qatargate –

The Brief — EU Parliament will pay a high price for low ambition on Qatargate –

The slow countdown to the next European elections in May 2024 is already starting and the last thing MEPs and their political groups want to talk about is corruption in their own Parliament. Unfortunately, they don’t have much choice.

There are few things more likely to depress turnout next May – which you can bet is worrying EU officials – than a graft scandal. 

In that sense, it is surprising that the 14-point plan drafted by Parliament President Roberta Metsola in response to the Qatargate bribery scandal is distinctly low on ambition.

Denying former MEPs a permanent parliamentary pass, requiring lawmakers and staff to report their meetings with lobbyists, more information on financial interests (though it does not go into any specifics), and banning the plethora of so-called ‘friendship’ groups between EU lawmakers and a third party are little more than baby steps. 

Qatargate was a scandal waiting to happen for an institution which has long had a blind spot about money and has historically offered easy access to lobbyists.

Metsola is right in saying that the new rules will not stop those who are susceptible to being lured by bags of cash but that does not mean that the Parliament should not attempt an ambitious clean-up.

An EU version of the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires lobbyists to name the foreign government, party or politician they are working for and publish the contract they have with them, would do far more to regulate lobbying than any of the 14 points.

The Parliament says that it cannot set up its own independent ethics body and that this would require the European Commission to table a proposal. However, it is hard to see why the chamber’s own rules could prevent the creation of an internal regulatory body with teeth.

In the meantime, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) continues its attempt to weaponise Qatargate by accusing its Socialist rivals of not tackling corruption, pointing to the fact that, so far, the arrests have been of centre-left lawmakers.

That may be true, so far, but such tactics are like someone in a ditch throwing mud and then wondering why they are getting dirty themselves. To everyone outside the Brussels bubble, the Parliament as a whole is tarnished by Qatargate.

The EPP needs to wake up to the fact that there are no winners from Qatargate. If MEPs do not use the coming months to clean up their institution, the one likely result is that voters will simply stay away next May, much to the delight of the EU’s harshest critics.


The Roundup

The European Union aims to adopt a new regulation by the end of the year to restore natural ecosystems but several issues, including forestry, still create controversy among EU legislators

The European Commission has approved France’s €215 million aid scheme intended to help French farmers who do not use the controversial herbicide glyphosate and therefore face higher production costs.

Swedish and EU officials cut the ribbon of a future space rocket centre at Esrange, in Sweden’s deep north, on Friday, voicing hope that European rockets would start launching satellites from Swedish soil already next year.

As expected, French senators on Thursday rejected a resolution to take the country out of the European electricity market. But while the resolution was largely expected to fail, the vote on the contrary revealed growing defiance against the EU market.

Malaysia said on Thursday it could stop exporting palm oil to the European Union in response to a new EU law aimed at protecting forests by strictly regulating sale of the product.

‘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 German economy expanded by 1.9% in 2022 despite the ongoing energy crisis, the war in Europe, and continued supply chain issues, on the back of increased domestic demand following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

Don’t forget to check out the weekly Tech Brief: Germany’s AI reservations; and the Agrifood Brief: New Year, old tricks.

Look out for…

  • Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans prepares 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28) and attends 13th session of International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) General Assembly (Saturday-Sunday).
  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen meets French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Monday.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Nathalie Weatherald]

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