2nd Oct 2023

Socialists opposed parliament taking Qatar rights stand

  • Khalifa Stadium in Doha under renovations in 2016. Amnesty International says some 3,000 migrants worked on it daily (Photo: jbdodane, Flickr)
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The Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament are leading compromise talks on human rights in Qatar — despite most of their MEPs voting against putting the issue to a plenary vote.

The move comes after the Left group on Monday (21 November) demanded that the parliament take a position on human rights in the World Cup host nation through a so-called resolution.

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  • Team captains from Belgium, England, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Wales capitulated to Fifa over wearing OneLove anti-discrimination armbands (Photo: Matthew Tempest)

But the vast majority of S&D MEPs along with the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) voted against the Left's proposal, tabled by French group leader Manon Aubry.

"I was disappointed that the Socialists have not supported that," she told reporters in Strasbourg.

Aubry's proposal still passed with 181 MEPs in favour, 165 against and 32 abstentions. It means political groups now need to come up with their own drafts and then try to reach a common parliament-wide position.

The socialist group are now leading the compromise negotiations, following an agreement with the EPP on Monday. That agreement possibly aims to weaken the wider resolution wording ahead of the plenary vote later this week so as not to infuriate the Qataris.

A spokesperson from the socialist group did not respond to questions, as of publication, on why they are now leading negotiations — despite most of their MEPs opposing plans for a resolution.

The agreement also comes as World Cup team captains from Belgium, England, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Wales capitulated to Fifa over wearing OneLove anti-discrimination armbands.

Socialist group leader Iratxe Garcia Perez said the World Cup should be seen as an opportunity "to bring everyone together to promote freedom, equality, human rights."

She also laid much of the blame on Fifa for choosing Qatar as hosts in 2010, noting that much more needs to be done for women's rights, worker conditions and LGBTQ rights.

But the socialist voting record poses additional questions on whether some are cosying up to the oil-rich nation.

Among the Qatar-defenders is Marc Tarabella, a Belgian socialist MEP, who recently described any boycott of the World Cup games as hypocrisy.

Last year, he was cited in the Qatari press praising its labour reforms as a model for other neighbouring states.

"There are high standards of safety in place for workers, and implementation of minimum wages," he was quoted as saying.

The quote was in reference to the abolition of the Kafala system, which gives companies almost total control over migrant workers' employment and immigration status.

Those migrants helped build seven stadiums and renovate an eighth in Qatar, leading to numerous reported deaths. Fifa, the governing football body, and the Qatari World Cup committee, say three died but others say the true figure is in the thousands.

'Scheduling conflicts'

Meanwhile, a special delegation of MEPs dealing with Arab states had its trip cancelled ahead of the World Cup due to Qatari scheduling conflicts.

The delegation appears to have been replaced by a surprise visit from the vice-president of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili, a Greek socialist.

Kaili met with Qatari state officials during her visit and heaped praise on Qatar labour reforms, according to Qatari media.

The same media says she came to Qatar representing some 500 million European citizens and that she had favoured lifting Schengen visa restrictions on visiting Qataris.

In a post-publication statement, Kalli said that she had gone to Qatar on an official visit on behalf of European Parliament president, Roberta Metsola.

"It was nothing sudden. It was an official visit," she said, noting that her roles as a vice president is to represent Metsola in the Middle East. She said she had also gone to Kuwait and will soon visit Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Oman.

"I praised the progress that ILO told us, that they are ahead in the region and others should follow," she said.

She was also pictured in the United Arab Emirate's Abu Dhabi over the weekend with European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas, who himself had earlier praised Qatar on Twitter as "a global success" following his own visit.

While in Qatar, Schinas met with Bin Samikh Al Marri, minister of labour of the state of Qatar, and Max Tuñón, head of the International Labour Organization Office.

This article was updated on 23 November, 2022 at 9:50 to reflect post-publication statements by European Parliament vice president, Eva Kaili.

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