3rd Oct 2023

Metsola pledges EU parliament reforms after bribe allegations

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European Parliament president Roberta Metsola on Thursday (15 December) promised to unveil "wide-ranging reform package" in January after the assembly's worst corruption scandal in decades.

Metsola said the plans include strengthening whistleblower protection, a ban on all unofficial parliamentary friendship groups (groups of MEPs discussing relations with non-EU countries), a review of enforcement of code of conduct rules for MEPs, and new rules on how to interact with officials from non-EU countries.

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"There will be no impunity, no sweeping under the carpet, and no business as usual," Metsola told reporters after the parliament president's traditional meeting with EU leaders at the start of each European Council.

Belgian prosecutors suspect Greek MEP Eva Kaili and three others, including former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, accepted bribes from World Cup host Qatar in a bid to influence EU policymaking.

Metsola said the criminal proceedings are "damaging for democracy, for Europe, and for everything we stand for."

Other measures could include banning certain individuals from entering the parliament, altering the access of former MEPs into the building and amending the financial interest declaration MEPs have to submit only after getting elected.

Metsola also wants to have a mandatory transparency register of all meetings of any third country actors with MEPs and assistants, and a new sanctions regime to ensure compliance.

She also wants to make sure that official interlocutors of the European Parliament with third countries are the MEPs who are tasked with doing so, for instance as members of certain committees or as senior members of delegations.

"There is not enough monitoring, not enough control, not enough control over who pays for any travel, […] or declare what you receive on certain trips," she told reporters.

Metsola said the parliament is currently looking into the two proceedings — visa liberalisation for Qatar and an air agreement between the bloc and the Arab country — to find out if untoward influence has been exerted there.

"We will look into everything, any undue pressure or any undue influence that takes place," Metsola said, suggesting there could be other countries that might have exerted pressure. She did not name any state, however.

For her part, Metsola said she had two meetings with representatives of the Qatari government in Brussels.

The EP president also said she was invited to Qatar to address the parliament and to attend the World Cup games, but refused because she had "concerns about that country".

'Autocratic governments'

Metsola told EU leaders that according to information from the Belgian authorities "there are serious suspicions of people linked to autocratic governments, trading in influence" with the intention to subvert the parliament's processes.

She pledged a "strong reform process" admitting, however, that "there will always be some for whom a bag of cash is always worth the risk".

Metsola said it was essential that these people "understand that they will get caught", which is the best way to "rebuild trust".

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