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15th Dec 2018

MEP quits Morocco lobby after EUobserver investigation

  • The European Parliament is set to vote on an EU trade deal with Morocco (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament's lead MEP on a trade deal with Morocco has stepped down as a board member of a foundation, following an investigation by this website into lobbying.

French liberal Patricia Lalonde confirmed on Thursday (29 November) she was leaving EuroMeda, a Belgian foundation whose leadership includes former Moroccan state ministers and the current president of a Moroccan business union.

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"In order to avoid any ambiguity, I have suspended my participation to the board and have updated my declarations accordingly," she said in an emailed statement.

"I can ensure you that my judgment has always been guided by what I thought was fair, correct and objective. I do not believe my participation with EuroMeda has influenced in any way my work on the EU Morocco trade agreement," she added.

Her move follows intense pressure over possible conflicts of interest and calls for a code of conduct probe into Lalonde, along with French socialist Gilles Pargneaux, Romanian centre-right MEP Romona Manescu, and Belgian liberal Frederique Ries.

All four are on the EuroMeda board and are working on the EU Morocco trade deal, although Lalonde now says she is stepping down.

Parliament requires MEPs to declare their membership of any boards in their statement of financial interest.

It also requires rapporteurs such as Lalonde to disclose, before speaking or voting in the plenary or in one of parliament's bodies, "any actual or potential conflict of interest in relation to the matter under consideration."

EuroMeda was legally stamped as a foundation on 15 July, although dates in the Belgian moniteur go back to early February. It launched its twitter account in November 2017.

Pargneaux is the brainchild behind the operation, insisting the foundation has nothing to do with Morocco nor his activities as an MEP.

Along with EuroMeda members Manescu and Ries, he had earlier this month tabled an amendment on the trade deal.

EuroMeda's vice-president is Salaheddine Mezouar. Mezouar is Morocco's ex-minister of foreign affairs. He also presides over CGEM, a large pro-Moroccan business union.

The issue generated controversy because the European Parliament is set to rubber-stamp a controversial trade with Morocco, which includes the disputed Western Sahara territory.

The foundation itself is seated at Hill+Knowlton Strategies lobby firm, some 150 metres away from the European Parliament. Morocco was one Hill+Knowlton Strategies' biggest clients in 2016.

Lalonde insists she had done her best to have a balanced view, given her role as the parliament's rapporteur, and says she did not privilege one view over another.

Her office had earlier noted that she also belongs to an Intergroup on the Western Sahara, which opposes the EU trade deal with Morocco.

Although her name is not listed on the official membership register, the administrator overseeing the group confirmed her membership to this website.

"The reason to why she is not on the web page as a formal member has to do with administrative reasons," noted the Intergroup office.

Investigation

Exposed: How Morocco lobbies EU for its Western Sahara claim

The European parliament's lead negotiator on the Morocco trade deal, French liberal MEP Patricia Lalonde, is also on the EuroMedA Foundation board along with former Moroccan state ministers and a top ranking official in Morocco's ministry of agriculture.

Greens boycott EU-Morocco vote after lobbying expose

EUobserver has exposed Moroccan lobbying at the European Parliament, prompting a probe to be launched against several MEPs. The Greens have now decided to boycott next week's Morocco trade vote in protest, saying the lobbying investigation must be finished first.

Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes

MEPs ultimately adopted a controversial report on an EU trade deal with Morocco - despite the sudden resignation by French liberal Patricia Lalonde as the file's rapporteur only moments beforehand. Her departure follows an EUobserver investigation into lobbying by Morocco.

EU aviation agreement with Morocco in legal hot water

The European Commission is struggling to respond to questions on how it can include the disputed territory of the Western Sahara into its aviation agreement with Morocco - following a recent order from the General Court of the European Union.

EU leaders stuck on asylum reform

Migration was overshadowed by Brexit at the EU summit, with leaders stuck on key legislation. Some warned that free movement could be at risk.

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