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22nd Feb 2024

Kaili set to lose vice-president seat as Qatar fallout hits MEPs

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Greek socialist Eva Kaili is set to lose her seat as vice-president of the European Parliament after being arrested and charged with corruption in an affair linked to Qatari influence peddling.

Political group leaders in the so-called conference of presidents are meeting on Tuesday (13 December) to discuss her removal from office.

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Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, on Monday told the plenary in Strasbourg that Kaili's term as vice-president must be brought to "an end in an effort to protect the integrity of this house."

The statement comes as other socialist MEPs suspend themselves from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group or step down in their roles.

This includes Belgian socialist MEP, Marc Tarabella, a staunch defender of Qatar and vice-chair of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula.

Police raided Tarabella's home over the weekend. Metsola had accompanied a Belgian judge and police in a house search, she said.

Tarabella has denied any wrongdoing but has since suspended himself from the S&D Group.

Other socialist MEPs indirectly linked to the investigation have also been impacted, including Belgian socialist MEP Marie Arena, whose office was sealed.

Arena has since stepped down as chair of the sub-committee on human rights, EUobserver has also learned.

And Italian socialist MEP Pietro Bartolo stepped down as shadow rapporteur on visa liberalisation, while Italian socialist MEP Andrea Cozzolino stepped down as S&D coordinator.

The fallout comes as Belgian authorities arrested four people and who are charged with participation in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption.

Attack on democracy

Metsola on Monday qualified the wider scandal as an attack on European democracy.

"The enemies of democracy for whom the very existence of this Parliament is a threat will stop at nothing," she said.

She also revealed that the parliament has been working with Belgian national authorities "to break up this alleged criminal network for some time."

And she announced the launch of internal investigation and reforms to improve integrity at the EU institution.

"We will ask for more transparency on meetings with foreign actors and those links to them," she said.

But some of those reforms and calls for greater transparency and accountability within the EU parliament have also been glossed over over the years.

Some came on the back of EUobserver articles here and here and highlighted in a 2021 letter by Heidi Hautala, the Green's vice-president of the European Parliament to the European Parliament president at the time David Sassoli.

"We raised concerns about undue foreign influence and made many proposals. Got no answer," she said, in a Tweet on Monday.

Other known EU parliament weaknesses includes their so-called friendship groups, informal gathering of MEPs that allows pariah governments back door access to the EU parliament. The one dealing with Qatar has been suspended, said Spanish liberal MEP, José Ramón Bauzà, in an email.

The European Parliament's internal systems to weed out wrongdoing is also only composed of an advisory body of MEPs dealing with code of conduct issues.

Not a single MEP has been sanctioned over the past five years despite at least 21 being caught violating those codes.

Sanctions are imposed by the president of the European Parliament. The worst includes stripping MEP of his or her daily subsistence allowance for 30 days, raising questions about deterrence.

Vitor Teixeira of Transparency International in Brussels told reporters in Monday that the parliament's "monitoring is non existent, enforcement is non existent, and there is zero independence."

The NGO is demanding parliament reforms its internal whistleblowing rules, which currently don't apply to its own staff and assistants.

It is also demanding the parliament's Bureau, composed of the president and 14 vice-president, be stripped of all decision-making powers when it comes to issues of ethics, transparency and integrity.

The same Bureau had in the past overruled a majority of MEPs in the European Parliament seeking greater transparency on how politicians spend public money on themselves.

European Commission president Von der Leyen also chimed in.

"The allegations against the Vice President of the European Parliament are very serious," she told reporters.

The commission is working on a proposal for independent ethics body to cover the EU institutions.

But German Green MEP Daniel Freund said they have been waiting for the commission's proposal for over a year.

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European Parliament vice-president Eva Kaili has had her tasks suspended but retains her seat until a formal vote is taken. The move follows allegations of corruption as well as a spate of arrests by the Belgian police, involving €600,000 cash.

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