Marc Angel, a first-term socialist MEP from Luxembourg, has been elected as one of the 14 Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, filling the vacant spot left by Eva Kaili.
The Greek legislator was stripped of her position last month after she was detained by Belgian authorities and charged with accepting "large sums of money" and "substantial gifts" from a Gulf Persian country, widely identified as Qatar.
Kaili's shocking arrest triggered a summary process to remove her from her position as Vice-President, to which she ascended in January 2022. Kaili has been in prison since mid-December and remains a titular MEP.
Her lawyer has emphatically defended her innocence, arguing the Belgian authorities have "no evidence to substantiate the charge of bribery." Qatar also refutes the accusations.
The European Parliament is now scrambling to strengthen its internal rules of procedure, crack down on misconduct and restore lost trust. But civil society organisations have already warned the proposed set of reforms is insufficient and overly reliant on self-enforcement.
"I would have preferred to be Vice-President in other circumstances," Marc Angel told Euronews right after his election on Wednesday afternoon.
"But I also feel that now I have a big responsibility together with the whole bureau, together with the President of this Parliament (Roberta Metsola), and all the other Vice-Presidents. We all have to become champions of transparency and champions of anti-corruption."
Since the December raids, political scrutiny has honed in on the socialist group, known as S&D, the second largest formation in the hemicycle.
Besides Kaili, who was a high-profile, media-friendly S&D member, and her domestic partner, two additional socialist lawmakers have become involved in the probe: Marc Tarabella (Belgium) and Andrea Cozzolino (Italy).
Both men deny any wrongdoing. The Belgian authorities have requested the lifting of their parliamentary immunity, which for the time being protects them from being detained and questioned.
Moreover, Pier Antonio Panzeri, the suspected prime intermediary between the parliament and the cash bags, was a three-term socialist MEP until his departure in 2019.
Panzeri, who is also in prison, has signed a deal with the prosecutor's office under which he admits his guilt and commits to sharing "revealing" details of the alleged cash-for-favours scheme and the identify of the people "he admits to having bribed."
"It happened in our group. But it's not that our group is corrupt, (not) at all," Angel told Euronews. "We were very proactive since the beginning, since December when this horrible news came."
"We are also very much aware that we have to do homework, too," he went on. "We cannot preach new rules to the Parliament and just do nothing in our group."
Angel was elected Vice-President with 307 votes, defeating the candidates from the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, Italy's Annalisa Tardino, who got 185 votes, and the Greens, France's Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, who received 98 endorsements.
The Luxembourgish legislator said he would focus his work on "horizontal priorities" with a marked social character, such as the fight against poverty, LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and the protection of minorities.
"It's important that our citizens can pay the bills at the end of the month. I don't want any citizen to sit in a cold home or to choose between eating and heating. So this is also something, as a Social Democrat, which is very dear to my heart," Angel told Euronews.
"I do not forget where I come from: the social democracy, where human rights, democracy, rule of law are things which are very important to me."