“It felt like we were in a Netflix series. At first it seemed impossible: police raids, suitcases of cash, MEPs arrested. Then we learned the suitcases came from Qatar.”
One year ago today, on the International Day for Anti-Corruption, Belgian police raided 19 different addresses across the capital – arresting 8 people and seizing over €1.5 million.
In one of the worst corruption scandals to engulf the Parliament, parliamentarians were quick in their condemnation, with European Parliament’s President, Roberta Metsola, proclaiming that the Parliament and European democracy was “under attack”.
Qatargate shone a light on the murky waters of corruption, conflicts of interest and lobbying, but 12 months later, “reforms” are little more than window dressing.
“Qatargate was like an electric shock. We all had to send a clear signal to denounce what was happening. Already the EU seems far from the people and disconnected from reality. Qatargate only served to strengthen that perception. It was clear we had to act” says Left MEP, Leïla Chaibi (la France Insoumise) who sits on the Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO).
President Metsola presented a 14 point plan on transparency that was agreed behind closed doors and was less ambitious than the resolutions voted in Parliament. A new code of conduct for MEPs entered into force in November. Once again, it relies on MEPs’ self declaration of private interests, and breaches are sanctioned by the President of the Parliament – leaving ethics in the hands of party politics.
It is also weak on two of the key issues that affect transparency and decision-making: conflicts of interest and the thorny issue of MEP side jobs.
The Left has consistently called for a ban on side jobs for MEPs. MEPs already receive a generous allowance, when they have side jobs, their interests become inextricably linked to corporations or associations they work for, to the detriment of their constituents.
“According to the new code of conduct, conflicts of interest must be declared when you work on a file. But that’s it. There is no ban. No prohibition on working on a file, even if you are in a conflict of interest situation. And while there is a declaration of private interests, this is far from our call to ban paid side jobs,” explains Chaibi.
The long-awaited Ethics Body, proposed by the European Commission in June, was another missed opportunity. The Body that many hoped would harmonise accountability, transparency and anti-corruption measures for all EU bodies, is charged with nebulous tasks such as “developing standards” and “promoting ethics culture”, and lacks the enforcement, investigative and sanctioning powers needed to clean up the EU and restore public trust.
“There’s no independence. There’s no power of sanction. Once again, it’s parliamentarians overseeing other parliamentarians,” says Chaibi. “It’s nothing more than an empty shell. To curb corruption and enhance transparency, we need to radically change the way the European Parliament works and tackle the structural issues like lobbying, revolving doors, conflicts of interest, side jobs – which allowed a scandal like Qatargate to happen in the first place.”
Listen to the full interview with Leïla Chaibi, as well as an interview with Shari Hinds, policy officer at Transparency International EU, on the latest episode of Look Left, the Left’s monthly podcast.