Corruption scandal: EU Parliament chief vows to review laws and trips in search for undue influence

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By Sandor Zsiros  & Jorge Liboreiro
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola vowed to review undeclared trips and legislative amendments.
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola vowed to review undeclared trips and legislative amendments.   -   Copyright  European Union, 2022.

The European Parliament will review undeclared trips from lawmakers and pieces of legislation that might have been unduly influenced as a result of the alleged cash-for-favours scheme that has unleashed a political storm across Brussels and beyond, President Roberta Metsola has said.

"We're looking into everything," Metsola told Euronews on Thursday afternoon.

"We're looking into trips that have been approved, we're looking into trips that were not declared. We're looking at the process of putting forward amendments, timelines, the way resolutions are negotiated."

The investigation launched by Belgian authorities has shone a light on past legislative work, including a committee vote in early December that approved visa liberalisation for Qatar and Kuwait, as well as an array of paid-for visits of multiple European lawmakers to the Gulf region.

Alarms bells on possible "spheres of influence," Metsola noted, "should start to ring earlier."

"We also need to be (more) aware ourselves," the president said. "And this what I will tell all the members (of the European Parliament) and the staff members: if they see something that is not right, something has to be said and something has to be done."

Almost a month since the corruption scandal erupted, Brussels continues to deal with the shockwaves from the illicit lobbying allegedly conducted by Qatar in conjunction with a network of at least four individuals, including Greek MEP Eva Kaili and her life partner Francesco Giorgi.

The latest revelations have considerably expanded the scope of the investigation, potentially involving two additional MEPs from the socialist group – Marc Tarabella and Andrea Cozzolino – as well as intelligence and diplomatic officials from Morocco.

Both Qatar and Morocco have vigorously contested the claims.

Another socialist MEP, Maria Arena, who has not been charged nor detained, resigned this week from her position as chair of the parliament's subcommittee on human rights (DROI).

Kaili, Tarabella, Cozzolino and Arena deny any wrongdoing.

With new twists and turns emerging on an almost daily basis, Roberta Metsola has embarked on what she calls a "speedy" reform process to restore trust and crack down on misconduct.

"In essence, (to) re-introduce the concept of accountability, integrity and independence," Metsola explained. "We can be proud of our work, but we can do better."

The parliament chief presented on Thursday a first draft package of reforms, seen by Euronews, featuring a total of 14 proposals, such as a cooling-off period for former MEPs during which they won't be able to gain employment as a lobbyist, a ban on unofficial friendship groups, the mandatory publication of all scheduled meetings, new rules of access to parliamentary premises, and more detailed declarations on conflicts of interests and personal finances.

"I wanted to bring together all possible measures, but they are not exhaustive so they could be better enhanced," Metsola told Euronews. "Whatever needs to be done will be done. I'm confident in that."

Transparency International EU and Corporate Europe Observatory, two civil society organisations that monitor EU lobbying, welcomed the proposed reforms as an "overdue" and "promising" first step but criticised the fact they rely on "self-enforcement" and "self-policing" by MEPs themselves.

"We need independent, outside oversight. Too much responsibility is handed to parliamentary assistants," Michiel van Hulten, Director of Transparency International EU, said in a statement.

Asked about the criticism, Metsola defended her package and said she had received a "unanimous mandate" from all the political groups to move forward with her proposals, which can lead to "immediate" change.

The president, who at no point mentioned either Kaili or Qatar by name, admitted the lack of compliance with existing rules – rather than the absence of rules – laid the groundwork for the corruption scandal.

"There are rules that were enforced that were not put into place, that were not complied with by Members of the European Parliament or (their) employees. I would like that to completely change," Metsola said.

"I would like everybody to be responsible for their actions."