28th Nov 2023

EU Commission in damage control over Qatar-paid flights

  • EU Commission changed the rules after the apparent conflict-of-interest came to light (Photo: Spencer Wilmot)
Listen to article

The European Commission is in damage control following revelations Qatar paid for flights used by a senior transport official.

The official, Henrik Hololei, is the director general of transport. But as a top administrator, Hololei was also in the dual role of being able to clear any possible conflicts of interest when it comes to overseas travel paid for by external parties.

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

Hololei cleared himself, took the Qatari-paid business flights and at a time when his own department was negotiating an aviation deal with Doha, as revealed by Politico Europe.

The affair comes in the wake of the Qatargate scandal that has seen landed several high profile European Parliament politicians, including a now former vice-president, in pre-trial detention.

The European Commission still refuses to admit to any wrongdoing in the Hololei affair.

"Technically speaking, the rules at the time from a technical perspective were observed," its deputy chief spokesperson, Dana Spinant, told reporters on Tuesday (7 March).

Spinant then announced that the European Commission has since imposed new rules to avoid any potential conflicts of interests in the future.

From now on, senior officials at the European Commission can no longer accept free flights for events held outside Europe paid for by countries like Qatar, she said.

It means senior officials such as Hololei will only be able to take free trips paid for by EU state authorities, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, the United Nations, G7 and G20 countries, as well as universities.

"All the other missions will be covered entirely by the European Commission," she said.

Director generals like Hololei will also no longer be able to clear themselves of any conflicts of interest while at the same time approving their free missions.

They must now refer to the head of cabinets of their respective commissioners. "This is an obligation," said Spinant.

The commission says no other department heads, aside from transport, had taken such free trips.

"We have identified for now, I think five missions," said Balazs Ujvari, a commission spokesperson.

He said 1.5 percent of all missions carried out by commission staff since 2019 were paid by someone else. At least 0.2 percent authorised their own missions after carrying out a conflict of interest analysis, he said.

The rule change came after the EU's administrative watchdog, the European Ombudsman, also started asking questions.

The commission has until June to respond.

MEPs press EU Commission over Qatari-paid business-class flights

Pro-transparency MEPs are asking probing questions into possible conflict of interest between a senior EU commission official and Qatar, following revelations his business class trips were paid by Doha while negotiating a market access deal for its national airline.

MEPs scramble to declare paid trips post-Qatargate

MEPs are scrambling to declare trips paid by countries in the wake of a corruption scandal that has landed the parliament's former vice-president in pre-trial detention. Among them are two MEPs who had chaired the EU Qatar friendship group.


'Qatargate' is the tip of the iceberg

To those of us who have been working for years to cast a light on EU corruption, this latest scandal is not a shock, or even a surprise — it's just the tip of the iceberg.

WhoisWho? Calls mount to bring back EU directory

NGOs and lobbyists slammed the EU commission for removing contact details of non-managerial staff from its public register, arguing that the institution is now less transparent.


'Loss and Damage' reparations still hang in balance at COP28

There is still work to be done — especially when it comes to guaranteeing the Global North's participation in financing Loss and Damage, and ensuring the Global South has representation and oversight on the World Bank's board.

Latest News

  1. EU belittles Russia's Lavrov on way to Skopje talks
  2. Member states stall on EU ban on forced-labour products
  3. EU calls for increased fuel supplies into Gaza
  4. People-smuggling profits at historic high, EU concedes
  5. EU bets big on fossil hydrogen and carbon storage
  6. How centre-right conservatives capitulate to the far-right
  7. My experience trying to negotiate with Uber
  8. Key battlegrounds in EU's new media legislation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  2. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  4. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  5. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us