28th Mar 2023

Official: EU parliament's weak internal rule-making body leads to 'culture of impunity'

  • The transparency official argued that it is in the interests of all the MEPs ahead of the 2024 European elections to take action against corruption (Photo: European Parliament)
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The European Parliament's internal decision-making body should be looked into as the assembly lacks a serious sanctions regime for rule-breaking MEPs, a key transparency official said.

"I urge you to take a look at how the decisions, when it comes to transparency, integrity, ethics, and anti-corruption are taken in this house, and they are taken primarily through the Bureau," Nick Aiossa, deputy director of Transparency International EU told MEPs on Thursday (26 January).

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He was speaking at a hearing of the special committee on foreign interference which looked at how Qatar and Morocco influenced and allegedly financed EU lawmakers.

By now, four people have been arrested on preliminary charges amid claims that the governments of Qatar and Morocco gave out cash to get EU politicians to do their bidding.

Aiossa said there is a "culture of impunity" in the parliament among MEPs, which contributed to the Qatargate scandal that rocked the institution at the end of last year.

He said the parliament has "some of the weakest sanctions in place", "demonstrated by the lack of seriousness some MEPs have demonstrated by breaching or ignoring the rules".

Aiossa said that in the parliament's last mandate, 24 ethical violations of the code of conduct happened, but no sanctions were imposed.

"The ability and right to impose sanctions on an MEP falls directly with the president of the parliament, and for a variety of reasons, including political considerations, [which] I suspect [are] one of the reasons, why they have not been put forward," he said.

As a result, "MEPs will not feel obliged to respect the rules," Aiossa added.

Aiossa pointed to an internal decision-making body, the Bureau, which could adopt swift rules to strengthen transparency, but has failed to do so in the last decade.

The Bureau includes the parliament's president and the 14 vice-presidents (one of whom was MEP Eva Kailli, now imprisoned after being charged with corruption and money laundering).

The Bureau has been at the centre of frustrations before for the lack of willingness to make the parliament's work more transparent.

"The bureau is where good ideas for reform go to die," Aiossa said.

Aiossa urged MEPs to look at the general expenditure allowance, an annual €40m meant for office expenses and representation cost, for which not one receipt is required by MEPs.

He quipped that he cannot imagine that the parliament would be comfortable with any member state spending €40m in a year in cohesion funds without financial management.

Reform of this allowance has also failed in the Bureau, he said.

Aiossa recalled that the parliament itself called for better protection of whistleblowers within the European Parliament, but they have been ignored by the Bureau.

He argued that it is in the interest of all MEPs ahead of the 2024 European elections to take action.

Aiossa also argued for the creation of mandatory transparency registry for all and for MEPs to revisit the issue of third-party paid travels, adding that lawmakers have travel allowances at their disposal.

He commended the 14-point plan put forward by European Parliament president Roberta Metsola to deal with transparency in the parliament, saying they are a step in the right direction but they don't go far enough.

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