Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

Investigation

Saudis and their lobbyists risk losing access to EU parliament

  • The Saudi ambassadors following a closed-door meeting inside the European Parliament with MEPs on 19 February (Photo: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

Earlier this year, the former defence minister of France, Michele Alliot-Marie, chaired a backroom meeting with a half dozen Saudi ambassadors at the European Parliament.

That meeting was part of a so-called training programme organised by the College of Europe, an academic institution part-funded by the European Union and based out of Bruges in Belgium.

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The college received Saudi money for the effort and then attacked the media for reporting the behind closed door meeting between the ambassadors and MEPs as lobbying.

France is also the world's third-largest weapons exporter with Riyadh as one of its biggest clients. The regime late last year murdered critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Now pressure is mounting to ban all Saudi diplomats, as well as any organisation that represents them, from entering the European Parliament again.

In a letter sent to European Parliament president Antonio Tajani on Thursday (27 June) and the seen by this website, the leadership of the Greens political group demand action.

They ask, among other things, that Tajani "revoke all European parliament access badges to Saudi officials and to public relations companies or other entities working for or on the behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

They also want Tajani to suspend the participation of Saudi officials to any official meetings within the parliamentary premises, including those that take place on the committee and delegation level.

The letter is signed by the co-presidents of the group, German MEP Ska Keller and Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts.

It comes in the wake of revelations that a Saudi cybersecurity team was ordered to hack the email accounts of Guardian journalists looking into the Khashoggi killing.

It also follows a scathing report by UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard earlier this week, that establishes the existence of credible evidence of direct responsibility for Khashoggi's murder to the Saudi authorities, including the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

However, the demand comes at a tricky time, as coalition-building among the different political groups in the European Parliament is underway.

Macron's Loiseau is back

Among those groups is Renew Europe, the liberal group previously known as ALDE, whose ranks are now filled with deputies loyal to French president Emmanuel Macron.

Macron has refused to stem the weapon sales to Saudi Arabia despite numerous violations committed by the regime in its brutal war in Yemen.

Last month, France confirmed it had sent a new shipment of weapons to Riyadh.

The sale took place despite the release of a classified report showing how French tanks and laser-guided missile system are being used by the Saudis in Yemen.

Now Macron appears to be now attempting to reshuffle his influence at the EU level.

Last week, his top pick to become the leader of Renew Europe, Nathalie Loiseau, was forced to withdraw her nomination following a flurry of insults against other MEPs inside the group.

But on 10 July, she is set to secure a key spot on the European parliament's subcommittee on security and defence, where the global weapons trade is likely to be a core subject.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether the Keller and Lamberts letter will have any affect given the internal jockeying of power for the top EU jobs.

Tajani is himself stepping down as European Parliament president as MEPs elect a replacement next week in Strasbourg.

Should the Saudi ban be imposed, it would not be unprecedented.

In 2015, the then European Parliament president, Martin Schulz, revoked and restricted access to top ranking Russian officials.

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