Qatargate has not rocked the very fundaments of the EU (in fact the European Commission and the European Council have already declared that the issue didn’t concern them), but has generated enough waves not to calm any soon.
As the latest development, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola has just promised in an interview published on January 27, that the parliament would be more effective, transparent, modern and open, than ever before. She listed all the measures that had been taken, mentioning reviews (and/or cancellations) of upcoming visits to countries with questionable human rights records. She also talked about measures to address more systematic cases of harassment and corruption, about mandatory trainings for the MEPs, etc.
A week before the interview, a 14-point action plan was also proposed, that aims to tighten rules for lawmakers on financial declarations and contacts with lobbyists. For example by requiring all lawmakers and their staff to publish meetings with campaign groups. Friendship groups with non-EU countries would be banned. A new gifts-policy was also talked about.
The devil is in the details, as always.
Given that presently it is neither transparent, nor open or effective, any tiny step taken towards the right direction might get presented to the public as a great achievement, while nothing would be changed for real. Just like in 2019, a new set of transparency rules might get adopted … just to end exactly as the 2019 edition. Half-executed, half-neglected, rarely enforced and collectively avoided by MEPs.
President Metsola also admitted that this would probably not enough as people can be easily lured by cash. Especially as the regulations on financial declaration are lax, at the best, and not really enforced (as it was proved by the dozens of long overdue ones filed in the wake of the scandal, including one from Metsola herself, listing 142 gifts received).
She didn’t say, but as the desire is strong among the MEPs to “take out the few bad apples” but then continue as if nothing had happened (business as usual, as they say), it is highly likely that whatever would be accepted, would be sabotaged as much as humanly possible.
As long as there is no mandatory registration into the Transparency Register, thus not all lobbyist and lobby groups are required to disclose their contacts with third-countries or foreign politicians, undue influence still cannot be ruled out.
Also, the question of whistleblower protection for EU employees was still not fully answered, the proposed measures about “safe places” to talk about possible cases of concern are fairly vague and the details of how exactly the whistleblower would be protected are completely lacking.
And there was a built-in safety mechanism in her interview, as well. The president of the EP said, that (the committees examining specific topics and) the leadership of the EP decided to make more decisions only after the judicial and investigative proceedings had enough time to go ahead.
What’s the catch with that? First, an investigation can take a very long time. That could mean many other possibilities for shady business and the further increase in Euroscepticism. It might not be so, especially not as Belgian prosecutors just managed to strike a deal with former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, one of the four main suspects, currently in detention. He admitted running a criminal organization and has promised to give full details of his crimes and that of the others’ in exchange for a lighter sentence. That might hasten things up a little.
And secondly, it is, in fact, of secondary importance whether a crime was committed in the specific case that triggered the scandal. The fact that it could have happened (and probably did so, as the investigation was extended to several more MEPs and assistants and family members since it started) is an indicator that the European Parliament has double standards when it comes to corruption.
For years it has cast itself as the champion of human rights and rule of law and ostracized anybody who did not meet their standards and accused them of trying to avoid responsibility, of acting like an ostrich and sticking their heads into the sand, when those accused tried to claim that at first, some sort of legal decision (an investigation at the minimum, but a court judgement at best) should be reached, to be in line with the innocent until proven guilty principle.
Now the Parliament is doing exactly the same.