EU chief calls for harmonized ethics rules in scandal
BRUSSELS — The top European Union official on Monday called for the creation of an independent ethics body covering all institutions in the bloc and said the corruption allegations targeting a vice-president of the EU legislature were ” of the utmost concern”.
Belgian prosecutors investigating possible influence peddling in the European Parliament charged four people over the weekend with bribery, involvement in a criminal group and money laundering. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Eva Kaili of Greece has been relieved of her duties.
Authorities said a Gulf country was suspected of offering money or gifts to parliament officials in exchange for political favors. Prosecutors declined to identify the country, but several assembly members and some Belgian media linked the investigation to Qatar, which currently hosts the football gala, the World Cup.
Qatar’s foreign ministry has denied any wrongdoing.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the EU’s chief executive, said the charges against Kaili threatened the trust European citizens have in the institutions of the 27-nation bloc.
“This trust in our institutions requires the highest standards of independence and integrity,” von der Leyen told a news conference.
She said the independent ethics body she proposed would cover lobbying activities with the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, as well as the European Central Bank, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors.
The EU does not yet have comprehensive lobbying regulations.
“The principles of having such an ethics body where there are very clear rules of what needs to be audited, how and when and what needs to be published, how and when would be a big step forward,” he said. she declared.
On Friday, police in the Belgian capital carried out several searches as part of the investigation and reported seizing around 600,000 euros ($633,500) in cash, computer equipment and mobile phones. The federal prosecutor’s office, without identifying anyone, said four of the six people detained that day were later charged and two were released.
Prosecutors confirmed that a member of parliament had been arrested but declined to confirm it was Kaili, 44, a former television news presenter. They said they suspected “the payment of large sums of money, or the giving of large gifts” to people in influential positions in the European Parliament.
In Athens, Greek government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said the charges against Kaili represented “a very serious matter which is in the hands of Belgian justice” and “creates an additional flaw in the credibility and trust in the authorities”. European institutions and the European Parliament”.
The European Parliament begins its last plenary session of the year in Strasbourg, France on Monday.
Manon Aubry, co-chair of the left-wing group in parliament, said her group would demand a debate and resolution on the scandal, with the aim of putting in place “much stricter rules”.
“The battle continues: our democracy is not for sale,” Aubry wrote on Twitter.
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola relieved Kaili of her post over the weekend. Kaili’s party in Greece also suspended her party in Greece and the European Assembly’s Socialists and Democrats Group also suspended her.
Kaili’s party in Greece, the Pasok-Socialist Movement for Change, has publicly distanced itself from remarks she made in the European Parliament last month praising Qatar,
Qatar has come under heavy international pressure to introduce labor reforms in recent years as it sought to build new World Cup stadiums in record time, often using migrant workers who worked long hours in difficult conditions.
The EU and Qatar have strengthened their economic relations since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine. Moscow has cut supplies of natural gas used to heat homes, generate electricity and generate electricity in Europe in response to EU sanctions, deepening an energy crisis that is fueling inflation.
The EU has been looking for alternatives to buy long-term liquefied natural gas, especially in Qatar. In April, the European Commission proposed to lift visa requirements for short stays in the EU for Qatari nationals.
When asked if Belgian authorities were in contact with the European Commission as part of their investigation, von der Leyen said she had no idea. She added that the commission was reviewing its own register of political transparency.
“If new information comes out, we will have to act and react to that,” she said.
Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this story.