Six months ago, the then Vice-President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili was arrested in Brussels.
Her arrest and that of additional MEPs and parliamentary assistants revealed what has been called by some as “the biggest corruption scandal” in the history of the European Parliament.
All those involved have strongly denied any wrong doing but, even so, the fall out from the scandal is still being felt.
The latest example is the decision to replace a key figure in the investigation into the affair.
It is believed that federal prosecutor Michel Claise, the man who was leading the inquiry, reportedly stepped down due to questions over an alleged possible conflict of interest. Mr Claise was not immediately available for comment to this website on these reports.
But, after six months of debate about what consequences should be drawn in light of the scandal, Corporate Europe Observatory, Transparency International and LobbyControl have taken stock of the process so far.
What they call the “grand announcements” by the Parliament and the Commission calling for better rules of conduct, stronger oversight and more transparency “have so far hardly been implemented at all.”
Commenting, Nina Katzemich, EU campaigner at German NGO LobbyControl, said, “The shocking ‘Qatargate’ scandal has exposed the existing gaps in lobbying and transparency mechanisms in the EU institutions. The Parliament initially reacted swiftly and promised to close these gaps. But the balance sheet after half a year is sobering: reforms are in danger of being talked to death or significantly weakened in protracted backroom negotiations. Among others, German EPP MEPs are actively involved blocking necessary reforms, using the scandal instead to stir up public opinion against non-governmental organisations. This is unacceptable and misleading.”
Further comment comes from Shari Hinds, Policy Officer for EU Political Integrity at Transparency International EU, who says, “The European Parliament should stop twiddling its thumbs waiting for an independent ethics body for all EU institutions. Instead, it should put its own house in order by reforming its internal rules. The lack of oversight and sanctions has already done too much damage to the Parliament’s credibility. Strict reforms are long overdue. Only a swift, public and transparent reform process will send a clear signal to the voters in the upcoming European elections.”
Commenting on the EU Commission’s planned “defence of democracy package”, Katharine Ainger, researcher on lobbying repressive regimes at CEO, said, “The EU Commission has set the wrong priorities so far. Instead of a misguided ‘foreign influence’ law that could negatively impact civil society, the obvious answer to the Qatargate scandal is a robust and mandatory EU transparency register covering all covert lobbying, with adequate enforcement mechanisms.”
All three organisations issued a statement which reads, “Covert or manipulative influence on democratic processes is always problematic, regardless of whether it comes from inside or outside the EU. What is needed now is a legally binding transparency register, better rules against conflicts of interest for MEPs and an authority with sufficient resources and competences to monitor and enforce compliance with the rules. The EU Commission’s proposal for an ethics body presented today is insufficient. The EU institutions must now do their utmost to regain lost trust in integrity and independence, and to prevent the next lobbying scandal via decisive reforms.”