10th May 2021

Row intensifies over investigation into MEP scandal

  • OLAF was set up in 1999 in the wake of corruption allegations surrounding the Santer commission (Photo: OLAF)

Pressure is mounting on European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek to allow EU investigators into the offices of MEPs implicated in the latest cash-for-amendments scandal, as the standoff with the EU's anti-fraud office (OLAF) runs into its second week.

Parliament's Green group on Wednesday (30 March) backed OLAF to carry out an investigation into the four MEPs alleged by the Sunday Times to have filed legislative amendments in return for offers of money.

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

Buzek has so far refused a role for the EU anti-fraud team, arguing that its mandate is strictly limited to abuses related to the EU budget. But in a rapid exchange of letters last week, OLAF's secretary general Giovanni Kessler warned the Polish politician to back down.

"Refusing OLAF to investigate in these cases on parliament's premises is a breach of the obligations under article 13 of the TEU [EU Treaty]," states Kessler's letter, seen by this website.

Centre-right MEP Ingeborg Grassle, parliament's pointswoman on OLAF's legal basis, rallied behind the position of the legislature's president however, calling for a fresh debate on OLAF's role in the future. "They are trying to increase their remit. They have enough to do without intervening on a weak legal basis," she said.

Judges may eventually be called in to rule on the issue. "It's a legal issue between institutions. They usually end up in court if there's no decision," an OLAF official said on condition of anonymity.

Transparency groups say the standoff is both remarkable and dangerous, citing concerns that vital evidence could be destroyed during the current limbo.

"One thing you can be sure of is that parliament's internal investigation is not going to be sufficient. There are going to be too many vested interests," Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory said, indicating he would support a probe by the Belgian authorities or OLAF.

"The determination in which parliament has acted to keep OLAF out is remarkable, compared to their laxness in allowing conflicts of interest in the past. They have been unwilling to install stricter codes of conduct for MEPs, it could have prevented this latest scandal."

The large number of MEPs with additional paid jobs has attracted growing criticism in recent days, as has the tendency of some MEPs to blindly file legislative amendments requested by businesses or lobby groups. "It's a small jump to then accept money for amendments," said Hoedeman.

Others such as veteran anti-corruption campaigner Monica Macovei, a former justice minister in Romania and current MEP in parliament's centre-right EPP group, have called for a ban on euro-deputies pursuing additional paid jobs, frequently in the consultancy domain.

Buzek has so far said parliament will overhaul its code of conduct, but has remained silent on the question of parallel jobs. His office did not answer multiple calls on Wednesday.

The scandal and whether OLAF should play a role in the investigation is set to dominate a meeting between Buzek and parliamentary group leaders on Thursday, as senior parliamentary officials attempt to halt the damage being caused to the institution's already-weak reputation.

One parliamentary official conceded the OLAF question was "burning up the telephones" at the moment, while another said "it's hard for Buzek to back down after his strong stance last week".

The second official denied Buzek was attempting a cover-up. "I don't think he is trying to avoid anything, it's more likely plain stupidity from one of his legal advisors."

In a separate case to the Sunday Times allegations, an Austrian conservative MEP Hella Ranner threw in the towel on Tuesday after a different newspaper, Austria's Kurier, claimed she planned to pay back business debt using money set aside for parliamentary expenses.


Hungary gags EU ministers on China

EU countries have shelved plans to issue a statement of moral support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong - due to Hungary's veto. Hungary is a major beneficiary of Chinese investment, including the building of a new university in Budapest.

EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn

The European Union is now ready to discuss the proposal to waive temporarily intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines - following the historic decision by Washington in favour of easing patent rules.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Czech minister plotted to bury evidence on Russian attack
  2. Putin promotes Russia's 'Kalashnikov-like' vaccine
  3. Coronavirus: Indian variant clusters found across England
  4. UN report encourages EU methane cuts
  5. EU court upholds ban on bee-harming pesticides
  6. Israeli tourists welcomed back by EU
  7. EU duped into funding terrorist group, Israel says
  8. Brussels prepares portfolio of potential Covid-19 treatments

EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn

The European Union is now ready to discuss the proposal to waive temporarily intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines - following the historic decision by Washington in favour of easing patent rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU ambassadors flock to Red Square for Putin's parade
  2. MEPs win battle for bigger citizens' voice at Conference
  3. Hungary gags EU ministers on China
  4. Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit
  5. EU preparing to send soldiers to Mozambique
  6. EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn
  7. EU mulls using new 'peace' fund to help Libyan coast guard
  8. Poland 'breaks EU law' over judges, EU court opinion says

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us