28th Sep 2023

MEPs adopt rules on ethics and transparency after 'Qatargate'

  • MEPs will now have to declare all their remunerated activities (whether 'regular' or 'occasional') if they exceed €5,000 a year. Nor will they be allowed to receive gifts worth more than €150 (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)
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With 15 votes in favour, 10 against and one abstention, the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee on Thursday (7 September) gave the greenlight to new rules on an anti-corruption code of conduct for its MEPs, in the wake of last year's 'Qatargate' corruption scandal.

The reform builds on the 14-point plan put forward by president Roberta Metsola in January to prevent future corruption in the EU's only elected institution.

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In late 2022, it emerged that Belgian police were investigating one of the parliament's 14 vice-presidents, Greece's Eva Kaili from the Socialists & Democrats, plus several other MEPs and former MEPs, over alleged bribes from Qatar and Morocco to influence European legislation.

The most recent discovery by Belgian investigators was €280,000 in cash at the home of the son of the Belgian MEP Marie Arena (Socialists & Democrats), one of the implicated public figures in the Qatargate scandal.

Metsola's initial response was swift, but the new rules, which aim to toughen sanctions for unethical behaviour and increase scrutiny of MEPs, were less so.

Although the original plan was for the new rules to come into force before the summer, less than half of them were actually adopted, prompting organisations such as Transparency International EU to lament the lack of action taken by the hemicycle since the scandal.

'Dither and delay'

"We've seen nothing but dither and delay and attempts to blame others for what happened," Michiel van Hulten, director of TI EU said in June.

In their analysis of the parliament's promised reforms, they noted that half a year after the scandal, no progress had been made on reducing MEPs' potential conflicts of interest, regulating lobbying of the EU Parliament or addressing the rules on sitting MEPs.

Key issues such as the obligation to publish online all meetings with third parties, the declaration of financial assets at the beginning and end of each MEP's mandate and better regulation of unofficial groups with third parties remained on the to-do list.

In addition to the above, a number of other points were agreed in Thursday's vote.

According to the draft report, MEPs will now have to declare all their remunerated activities (whether "regular" or "occasional") if they exceed €5,000 a year, nor will they be allowed to receive gifts worth more than €150.

Moreover, the definition of conflict of interest will now be extended to include an MEP's family, emotional life, economic interests or any private interest.

Parliament's revolving door policy will also prohibit MEPs from engaging with former MEPs in any way that could influence legislation during a six-month "cooling off" period.

For unofficial groups, a register of all support "in cash or in kind" will be set up — and the use of the parliament's logo and name will be banned.

Strengthening the internal advisory committee was another pending part of Metsola's 14-point plan — a body that recommends sanctions, but whose imposition depends on the president.

MEPs agreed that the committee should be composed not only of five MEPs chosen by the president, but also of three external experts "with personal integrity and experience in professional ethics," according to the draft report.

"The Qatargate scandal has profoundly undermined citizens' confidence in our institutions," shadow rapporteur MEP Gilles Boyer (Renew Europe) said after the voting. "Providing a political response is both a necessity and a duty".

The next step will be for all MEPs to agree on the final text in plenary, next week in Strasbourg.

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