Ethics and integrity in the European Parliament… where are we at?
For two months now corruption in the European Parliament has been making headlines, with parliamentary immunity being lifted from MEPs, grandiose declarations of zero tolerance for corruption and a flurry of plans and resolutions promising integrity and accountability. Yet the scandal continues to widen.
Understanding what is actually being done to stamp out corruption in the European Parliament can be a daunting task, and one can easily get lost in the whirlwind of declarations, amendments and resolutions. Here is a breakdown of what has happened over the past two months, with a heightened focus on the texts adopted during the February plenary session.
Last December, as the scandal broke, the European Parliament adopted a resolution setting out 15 measures to curb corruption and enhance integrity, accountability and transparency. Among the proposals included in the resolution there was the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry to identify the loopholes which allowed the Qatargate scandal to happen, a special parliamentary committee to thoroughly reform the Parliament’s anti-corruption and integrity mechanisms, a vice president in charge of the fight against corruption, compulsory declaration of assets by MEPs at the beginning and end of their mandate, aligning the internal rules on whistleblowing to the standards of the EU directive.
This all sounds great, right? Well, unfortunately, most of these measures have been swept under the carpet by the European Parliament President, Roberta Metsola, who cooked up an alternative 14 point plan behind closed doors.
This move dovetails with a bigger plan by the EPP group to derail the root and branch reforms proposed by the Parliament in December. On behalf of The Left group, our co-president Manon Aubry proposed during the February session to have a debate and resolution to follow up on the transparency and anti-corruption measures.
Corrupt politicians are a bit like vampires; they hate the light.
— The Left in the European Parliament (@Left_EU) February 16, 2023
In that same session the Parliament also called on the Commission to urgently present a legislative proposal to set up an inter-institutional ethics body which could harmonise accountability, transparency and anti-corruption measures for all EU bodies. This was promised by the EU Commission at the beginning of their mandate, and it is now expected by March.
These two resolutions are positive developments. However, when reviewing the amendments and proposals being put forward by political groups, one cannot avoid noticing worrying trends creeping in. For example the EPP has used the corruption scandal to wage war against NGOs and civil society organisations, deflecting attention from allegedly corrupt MEPs and structural loopholes towards NGO funding and activities. This has been a source of great concern for activists and civil society organisations who find themselves on the front line working on the most crucial issues of our time, such as human rights and the climate crisis, and who have often been at the forefront of long-standing efforts to improve ethics and transparency in EU politics.
The right wingers in the European Parliament have also used these resolutions to attempt – with little success for now – to further limit the scope and ability of the European Parliament to speak up against human rights violations. Worryingly, the reactionary forces in the House managed also to backtrack on some of the initial commitments made in December 2022 such as making the transparency register mandatory for MEPs.
Despite these troubling attempts, The Left has been able to propose and deliver significant steps forward in the fight against corruption. In both resolutions adopted in February, the Parliament calls for a ban on side jobs for MEPs, the extension of the cooling off period for MEPs to two years – aligning itself to the Commission’s standard, strengthening the independence of the Parliament’s Advisory Committee, a clear definition of the role and responsibility of the EU ethics body ensuring it has the power to start investigations and impose sanctions.
🔴Dans 2 résolutions, la plénière du Parlement européen approuve mes amendements demandant d'INTERDIRE le cumul du mandat d'eurodéputé avec des activités rémunérées relevant du champ d'application du registre de transparence ou susceptibles de créer un conflit d'intérêt. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/UMEDSmPvyG
— Marc Botenga (@BotengaM) February 16, 2023
While positive, these are initial steps. Qatargate is the tip of an iceberg of malpractices. The only way to ensure curb corruption and enhance transparency is to radically reform the way the European Parliament works. We will continue to drive forward reforms that tackle the structural issues which allowed the Qatargate scandal to happen in the first place.
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- La France Insoumise