Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

College of Europe alumni ask rector to cut Saudi ties

Signatures at the European Parliament are being collected among former College of Europe graduates demanding that the academic institute, College of Europe, stop organising private meetings between MEPs and the autocratic Saudi government.

More than 70 names have so far been collected in a letter to be sent to the institute's rector Jorg Monar following EUobserver revelations that the Saudis were paying the costs for the College of Europe to organise closed-door briefings with MEPs.

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  • MEPs meet Saudis behind closed doors. (Photo: EUobserver)

"These actions put the reputation of the College of Europe as an EU-funded actor and as an academic centre for excellence at stake," notes the letter, seen by this website.

The EU-funded institute is working with the Saudi regime to organise a visit to the EU institutions this week in what it describes as a training programme.

The visit included holding a closed-door meeting on Tuesday (19 February) at the European Parliament for high-ranking Saudi government officials.

The meeting took place with centre-right MEPs dealing with Middle East affairs in a room ironically named after Slovenian dissident Joze Pucnik, who railed against dictatorships.

Asked to comment, the College in an emailed statement said it was not aware that a meeting with only centre-right MEPs was taking place, noting that it had reached out to MEPs from different political parties and countries.

It said the MEPs were completely free to discuss whatever topic they wanted and were not requested to focus on one topic or another.

It also said the Saudi training exercise included a visit to the hemicycle and a general information session about the European Parliament as an institution.

French centre-right Michele Alliot-Marie, who chaired the meeting, did not respond to questions on the issues discussed.

The Bruges-based campus of the College of Europe received €5.6m in EU money for 2019.

Jamal Khashoggi

Meanwhile, in what appears to be a coincidence, Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi was at the same time giving testimony in another room on the same floor of the same European Parliament building.

In an impassioned plea for justice, she told MEPs in a public session held by the parliament's sub-committee on human rights, that not enough pressure had been placed on the Saudis to atone for their crimes.

"Until now, nothing has been done with those who have been implicated in this particular crime and which find themselves in Saudi Arabia," she said.

Khashoggi, who was a critic of the Saudi regime, was last October killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul before being dismembered and dissolved in acid.

"Exert the pressure that you can in order for the issue to be clarified, this is what I call for," she told the committee.

Saudis paying College of Europe to lobby MEPs

The Bruges-based College of Europe is setting up private meetings with the EU institutions for seven ambassadors plus seven high-level officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

EU college defends Saudi-style visits, attacks 'sloppy' media

College of Europe rector Jorg Monar says the surplus money made from setting up closed-door meetings between the Saudi government and EU officials, including MEPs, "would barely cover the replacement costs of a beamer in a College seminar room."

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