BRUSSELS ( Associated Press) — The European Parliament was rocked Tuesday by threats to its credibility as a corruption and bribery scandal ruined the careers of several lawmakers and a Qatari accused of trying to downplay labor rights concerns ahead of World Cup soccer. He turned his eyes to the officers.
The scandal, which became public last week, has damaged the reputation of the EU’s only body made up of directly elected parliamentarians from all 27 member states. The matter has undermined the assembly’s self-righteous position in its own investigation, such as in view of alleged corruption in Hungary, a member state of the bloc.
“It’s very deep down because it’s basically what parliament is trying to protect,” Hendrik Vos, a professor at Ghent University, told The Associated Press. “Parliament pretends to protect transparency, impossible to bribe, to protect fundamental values. And then we have something like this.
Parliament Speaker Roberta Metsola spoke on Monday of her “anger, my anger, my sadness” and told European lawmakers that “European democracy is under attack.” While MEPs were meeting in Strasbourg, France, Belgian police were collecting computer data from the Chamber’s other headquarters in Brussels.
Parliament, however, has always been a big target for people seeking money or favors or influencing policy, from tobacco lobbyists to auto industry representatives to national government officials. The difference this time is that Belgian prosecutors noticed.
Police have already carried out more than 20 searches in an investigation into bribery for political gain, mostly in Belgium but also in Italy. Prosecutors suspect that “persons holding political and/or strategic positions in the European Parliament received large sums of money or were offered substantial gifts to influence Parliament’s decisions.”
The scandal has hit the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in parliament. The group brings together left-wing parties from across the continent. It remains the second largest in the 705-seat House, although it has lost more than 30 seats in recent elections due to loss of public support.
Prosecutors have charged the four men, who have not been identified, with corruption, participating in a criminal group and money laundering. The Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, the Greek Eva Kelli, was one of them. MPs voted overwhelmingly to remove him from office on Tuesday.
Kaili, a 44-year-old former Greek TV presenter, belongs to S&D. Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella withdrew himself as a member of the group on Monday, suggesting he could be one of the defendants. Three other party MPs apparently temporarily suspended senior S&D roles through the involvement of their parliamentary colleagues.
Belgian authorities have not identified the Persian Gulf country suspected of giving money or gifts to parliament workers, but several members of the assembly and some Belgian media have linked the investigation to Qatar.
“Qatar has bought the votes of this assembly to cover up the exploitation and death of migrant workers in World Cup infrastructure,” Menon Aubry, co-chair of the Left Group, said on Monday. “I want to send a very clear message to Qatar: You cannot buy European parliamentarians like you can buy football clubs.”
The Qatari Foreign Minister called the allegations “baseless and seriously misinformed”.
Qatar has arguably received some favorable signals in Europe this year, but it will be hard to establish whether European officials were paid to do so. Belgian authorities have seized hundreds of thousands of euros in various houses and a suitcase found in a Brussels hotel during searches.
Leading members of the EU executive, the European Commission, have praised Qatar’s labor reforms ahead of the World Cup. The commission also launched a campaign in April to offer visa-free travel to Qataris with biometric passports who wanted to travel to Europe for short stays, although Parliament suspended its participation in the process in light of the investigation. suspended.
But with Russia’s war in Ukraine affecting electricity supplies in Europe, member states are also desperate to find more reliable suppliers to help defray high energy prices for consumers. Qatar is considered one of them. Germany signed a huge Qatari liquefied natural gas contract two weeks ago.
For Olivier Hoedmann, coordinator of the lobbying watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory, the scandal is the subject of a long-known loophole in parliament.
“This bribery scandal that is unfolding is a product of years of neglect to haunt EU institutions,” he said. “Suspected Russian lobbyists were banned too late this year. Today the focus is on Qatar. Both are for attention. It is not enough to take reactive measures after another scandal.
Raf Cassart and Samuel Petrquin in Brussels contributed to this report.