28th Mar 2023

No top EU officials going to Qatar World Cup

  • EU Council president Charles Michel in Qatar in August (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)
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None of the four top EU officials are going to the Qatar World Cup amid a stink on human rights, but some are braver than others in criticising the gas-rich emirate.

The no-show list includes EU Council president Charles Michel, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, EU Parliament president Roberta Metsola, and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, their spokespersons confirmed to EUobserver on Thursday (17 November).

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  • Migrant construction workers in Qatar (Photo: ilo.org)

They spoke ahead of the World Cup opening extravaganza in Doha on Sunday.

Michel is Belgian, von der Leyen is German, and Borrell is Spanish, with all their national teams having qualified for the finals.

But when asked if Michel might go later if his team does well, his spokesman said: "The [EU Council] president currently has no plans to travel to Qatar for the World Cup".

"He wishes Qatar as host nation as well as all teams participating a successful tournament," his spokesman added.

He declined to answer if Michel was staying away because of Qatar's widely reported abuse of migrant labourers or the fact it jails homosexuals.

Borrell's spokesman also blamed his agenda rather than indicating a boycott. "He [Borrell] has more important things to do than attend sports events," the spokesman said.

Football aside, Qatar has the second biggest natural-gas reserves in the world after Russia, at a time when the EU is scrambling to find alternative suppliers due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

But for all that, the EU Commission was more outspoken.

"Neither president von der Leyen nor commissioner [Mariya] Gabriel [who has the sports and culture portfolio in Brussels] will attend the Qatar World Cup," a Commission spokesperson said.

Their statement acknowledged Qatar had made some positive reforms, but went on to needle Doha on labour rights.

"We continue to encourage the Qatari authorities to improve workers' living conditions, to improve their access to justice, to ensure payment of wages and effective labour inspections," the spokesperson added.

"We will also enquire about recent reports of evictions affecting foreign workers in Doha late October with Qatari authorities," they said.

"It is not in the Commission's remit to give advice in this field [whether to go to Doha or not] to national leaders," they also said, amid national-level debates in EU countries on whether to boycott the games.

The Qatari embassy in Brussels declined to comment, but some Qatari envoys have shown themselves to be thin-skinned in the past.

Qatari labour minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri said during a debate with MEPs last week "we do not want to close the door to constructive criticism".

But he also said there "should not be any politicising" of the sports event, while complaining about anti-Qatari "smear campaigns".

Qatar's foreign affairs minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, has been more touchy.

"There is a lot of hypocrisy in these attacks, which ignore all that we have achieved," he said on 4 November, Reuters reports.

For her part, Maria Arena, a Spanish left-wing MEP who chaired last week's debate with Samikh Al Marri in the EU Parliament, also said a boycott was not the best way to stimulate improvement.

"If you want to know whether 10 years ago it was a good decision to choose Qatar for the World Cup, the answer is: No," she told EUobserver.

"Ten years later what should be done? I don't think a boycott is the solution. We must seize the opportunity [international attention around the football championship] to advance these rights issues in a region that is far from European acceptable standards," she added.

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