Qatar vote behind the scenes - chronicles of a scandal foretold
Statement from Co-President of the Left in the European Parliament, Manon Aubry.
The worst corruption scandal in the history of the EU has rocked the European Parliament. Six people were called in for questioning and four remain in police custody – vice-president Eva Kaili, her partner, and influential parliamentary assistant of the S&D group Francesco Giorgi, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, and, according to Italian newswire Ansa, Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, the secretary general of campaign group No Peace Without Justice.
More than a million euro cash was reportedly found in bags in MEP homes, as well as jewellery and luxury goods, and reports mention that Kaili’s father was allegedly found “in possession of a suitcase full of cash and was on the move, having been alerted by his accomplices.”
It has all the makings of a crime thriller, but behind the scenes, while negotiating a resolution on Qatar and its dire human rights record last month, this story of insipid corruption was foretold. And I had a front-row seat to witness the Qatar influence machine.
For the past year, I have been demanding a debate and resolution on the human rights situation in Qatar in the lead up to the World Cup. Every month, this was systematically blocked, most notably by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the European People’s Party (EPP).
Finally, in November, during the opening of the World Cup, I renewed my request for a debate and demanded a public vote. With a few exceptions, among them French socialists, the S&D, along with the right and far-right opposed it. Thanks to a narrow 16 votes margin and the absence of right-wing MEPs, we were successful in securing a resolution. This marked the beginning of extraordinary negotiations and speeches, that left anyone watching in little doubt that Qatar was buying up European influence.
Everything moved fast. The S&D took the lead on the negotiations behind closed doors. The Embassy of Qatar contacted me for a meeting, which I declined. In hindsight, it seems not everyone working in EU politics has the same scruples.
We were stunned when the motion for a resolution proposed by the S&D group was sent to us. A text that was supposed to condemn human rights violations, repeatedly congratulated Qatar on its “considerable efforts” in promoting human rights, highlighting the “strategic partnership” between the EU & Qatar, in particular for the supply of liquefied natural gas, and downplaying human rights violations. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
In the negotiations I was able to make some progress on the text as long as it didn’t mention Qatar. A compensation fund for the victims supplemented by FIFA was ok, a clear statement on the responsibilities of Qatar was out of the question.
In the end, I refused to sign the resolution and tabled more than 40 amendments to set the record straight. Amendments condemning Qatar for its failure to protect human rights, or seeking to hold them accountable for environmental disaster, were rejected one by one by the socialists and the right.
Now events over the weekend clearly show how Qatari money bought power and influence in the European Parliament. The vocal public support of some MEPs and Commissioners for Qatar is finally being questioned.
We demanded a debate and resolution against corruption in the EU institutions. The European Parliament should set up a committee of inquiry into this scandal to establish the full facts of the affair. The resolution on the human rights situation in Qatar must be voted again, without foreign interference. The same for the Commission’s “out of nowhere” proposal to grant visa free travel for Qatari citizens coming to the EU.
A clear and firm reinforcement of our institutional anti corruption safeguards is the best answer to leaders who use this scandal to justify their own nepotism. We desperately need a European ethics authority as well as a revision of the Parliament’s and Commission’s ethics rules. For some years now, the Left has been at the forefront in proposing such an independent ethics committee, which should be equipped with its own powers of investigation and inquiry. For too long, this has been delayed. The EU Commission must finally present a proposal to this effect.
We owe it to the people we’re here to represent. This is a dark week for European democracy. We must respond to it with the strongest ethics and transparency regime of any democratic institution. Corruption in the heart of Europe ends here.
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