Sunday

18th Apr 2021

Two nominees cleared of fraud on eve of EU hearings

Two EU nominees have been given the all-clear by fraud investigators on the eve of their European Parliament (EP) hearings.

The first, Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders, was accused by a former Belgian spy of being involved in various corruption schemes involving the Congo, Kazakhstan, Libya, and Belgian state contracts.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The Brussels prosecutors' office launched a preliminary probe into the allegations some five months ago.

It shut down the case on Friday - two weeks after news of it came out and five days before Reynders, who is meant to be the EU's justice commissioner, is due to face his cross-examination by MEPs on Wednesday (2 October).

It "dismissed the case" because "there was no offence" committed, Reynders' lawyer, Didier Matray, who is a famous name in Belgium, told press.

But that might not be the end of the affair.

For his part, the spy-turned-whistleblower, Nicolas Ullens, and his equally famous lawyer, Alexis Deswaef, aim to hold a press conference in Brussels on Monday to hit back.

Ullens believes Reynders used family ties in the Belgian judiciary to get himself whitewashed.

Some Belgian MEPs are doing their own digging into the affair. And up to four new witnesses, Ullens says, are prepared to give evidence to back his claims.

Meanwhile, the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf, also on Friday, closed its investigation into alleged misuse of EU funds by Polish nominee Janusz Wojciechowski, the would-be agriculture commissioner, in his time as an MEP.

Some "€11,243 had been unduly paid by the European Parliament to Mr Wojciechowski based on his travel declarations and attestations of attendance" Olaf said in a press release.

But "no disciplinary or judicial recommendations have been made" against him, it said.

He had already paid back the money, Olaf noted.

And Wojciechowski's explanation - that he had made an honest mistake - had some merit, Olaf hinted, by adding that the EP ought to "strengthen" its "administrative rules".

The Reynders and Wojciechowski decisions leave just one candidate, France's Sylvie Goulard, who is to be single market commissioner, still facing an ongoing investigation - also by Olaf and also into alleged misuse of EP funds when she was an MEP.

But that does not mean that the other 23 nominees are out of the woods.

The EP's legal affairs committee will decide on Monday morning whether Hungary and Romania's candidates - Laszlo Trocsanyi and Rovana Plumb - are fit to take up EU posts given the conflicts of interest that came out in their financial declarations.

Trocsanyi, the would-be EU enlargement commissioner, is more likely to be spared, EP sources said, even though the committee voiced "concern" on his links to a Hungarian law firm and to Russia.

But Plumb, who is to take the transport portfolio, was more fiercely criticised over a dodgy personal loan in the committee's initial appraisal.

And MEPs might ask questions on how Croatia's nominee, Dubravka Suica (who is to take the democracy and demography portfolio) suddenly became a millionaire back when she was mayor of Dubrovnik.

The hearings kick off on Monday afternoon with two less controversial candidates - Slovakia's Maros Sefcovic (inter-institutional affairs portfolio) and Ireland's Phil Hogan (trade).

The two former commissioners will face three hours each of questions from the foreign affairs, legal affairs, and international trade committees.

The hearings continue until 8 October, ending with another former commissioner, Dutchman Frans Timmermans, who is to be in charge of environmental matters.

The EP will then vote whether to approve the new European Commission en bloc before it takes up office on 1 November.

But the political scene is less amenable than in the past to cozy deals between the leading centre-right and centre-left political families, which lost their long-standing majority in the EP in European elections back in May.

Belgium's EU nominee still embroiled in legal feud

Cache of 18 secret documents and allegations of death threats in fresh legal complaint surrounding Belgium's EU nominee, Didier Reynders, shortly after a low-level prosecutor cleared his name.

Catalan MEPs lose immunity, slam 'political persecution'

Catalan separatist MEPs Carles Puigdemont, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí lost their parliamentary immunity - a result they have hailed as a "political victory" for bringing the conflict between Catalonia and Spain closer to the heart of Europe.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute

The Belgian and Bulgarian prosecutors who were appointed had also not been the experts' first choice. Belgian prosecutor Jean-Michel Verelst has challenged the council's decision at the European Court of Justice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us