State of the Union: What were the top stories in the EU this week?

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By Euronews
President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola looks on during the 53rd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.
President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola looks on during the 53rd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.   -   Copyright  Gian Ehrenzeller/ KEYSTONE / Gian Ehrenzeller

Among the EU institutions, the European Parliament is seen as the main defender of ethical standards in the bloc — that's why the bribery scandal inside it, involving lurid revelations of suitcases stuffed with cash, came as a shock.

This week, there were some major developments:

Members elected a new vice president, Marc Angel, to replace his Eva Kaili who was removed from office because of her alleged involvement in the scandal.

The chamber also debated measures to strengthen its anti-corruption defence lines to avoid further reputational damage.

And Pier Antonio Panzeri, the former Italian MEP suspected of being at the epicentre of the scandal, struck a deal with the Belgian authorities under which he admits his criminal participation and pledges to share everything he knows with investigators.

“Mr Panzeri is admitting today to have actively participated in acts of corruption in connection with Qatar and in connection with Morocco and therefore to have been corrupted and to have bribed others and he accepts the term leader of the criminal organisation," Laurent Kennes, the lawyer of Panzeri told Euronews.

Shedding light on every aspect of the scandal is one thing, taking the appropriate measures to bolster transparency is another matter.

President Metsola's late declarations

This week, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola retroactively declared more than 140 gifts that she had previously failed to disclose.

Gifts like gold coins, a scarf, and a dried sausage – the latter was reportedly served at official business.

All this shows you that transparency rules at the Parliament are limited at best, according to the EU's Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly.

"I think the vast majority of MEPs work with a good ethic and in the public service, but the thing is that the rules are so lax, or at times not being enforced, that if people wish to behave badly, they can," she said.

Nick Aiossa, deputy director at Transparency International EU, told Euronews that the scandal did shock him.

"I've often been asked, was this surprising to me? And my unfortunate answer is, no. The only surprising element of the scandal was the fact of the antiquated use of suitcases of cash," he said.

"For years, MEPs cultivated a culture of impunity with lax or nonexistent ethical rules with little or no oversight. So, I believe that this culture is one of the driving factors of why we had the scandal come to light."

Greta gets carried away

You can say whatever you want about Qatar, but the country is helping Europe during the energy crisis caused by Russia's war in Ukraine by providing more gas.

This is part of a scheme to rely longer on fossil fuels than expected, watering down Europe's clean energy policy, at least temporarily.

Not everybody likes that. In western Germany, protesters clashed with police this week over the expansion of an open pit coal mine.

One of them was Greta Thunberg, the 20-year-old Swedish climate activist.

But her prominent name didn't protect her: together with others she was kettled, carried away and briefly detained by police.

“Climate protection is not a crime”, she later declared and went straight to the World Economic Forum in Davos where she attacked big companies for obstructing a change in climate policy.