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Qatar scandal shows how bad the EU has a corruption problem – POLITICO

Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law at HEC Paris and founder of The Good Lobby, a non-profit organization committed to equalizing access to power.

Whatever its ultimate outcome, the Qatar “corruption” scandal exposed an inconvenient truth that was already obvious to most Europeans. Money buys influence in the EU.

Today’s outrage, in which a current MEP and a former MEP are allegedly accused by Belgian police of engaging in illicit lobbying activities on behalf of Qatar, is just the latest in a series of influence scandals to spread in the capital of the EU.

Before Qatargate, there were cases of revolving doors of former members of the Commission such as José Manuel Barroso and Neelie Kroes, MEPs such as Sharon Bowles and Holger Krahmer, or staff members such as Adam Farkas and Aura Sala. While none of these episodes come close to the allegations being made today, they have in their time shed light on how the current EU ethics control system fails to reduce the risk of behavior unethical.

This week’s revelation also highlights another uncomfortable fact: the weakest link in the EU’s integrity system is the European Parliament, simply because of its lax rules and patchy enforcement.

For starters, members of parliament are allowed to have side jobs (a quarter of the bloc’s 705 MEPs said they do), and their conduct is attributable only to their colleagues. Given the proportion of MEPs benefiting from this leniency, it is not surprising that even the few investigations carried out result in unpunished ethical violations.

Then there is the fact that MEPs are not required to declare all their meetings. Whistleblowing is also de facto discouraged, as parliamentary assistants who do not have the trust of their MEP will not have much work to do.

Together, Parliament’s ethical recklessness has produced a culture of impunity which not only damages EU citizens’ trust in democratic institutions, but also undermines the interests of the bloc as it results in behavior contrary to its declared values ​​during a period of unprecedented crisis. geopolitical realignment.

That is why Parliament must turn this latest integrity scandal into a real reform effort. Rather than once again limit themselves to smearing the political party directly implicated in the current scandal, EU political leaders must immediately announce a major overhaul of the bloc’s ethics and lobbying system.

Here are four reforms that would be a good start.

First, the EU institutions should establish a common and independent ethics authority with sufficient resources, as well as investigative and sanctioning capacities. This is what the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, promised when she took office, but did not follow through. Moreover, the proposal put forward by the European Parliament has been harshly criticized by the legal service of the European Commission, which has instead adopted a very cautious but largely unfounded position.

Secondly, the existing rules on transparency, conflicts of interest and revolving doors in the European institutions (in particular the codes of conduct of the institutions) must be reinforced by imposing reporting obligations on all members of the European Parliament. While the Bureau of the ruling Parliament has long opposed such an obligation in the name of the freedom of its electoral mandate, MEPs must now agree to report on all their meetings as an opportunity to demonstrate their real freedom vis- to particular interests.

Third, lobbying from third countries — whether by embassies or third parties — must also be published in the EU Transparency Register. Currently, governments are exempt from the EU’s already meager transparency rules. Likewise, meetings with representatives of third countries should be made public by all EU institutions, including individual MEPs.

Fourth, the EU Transparency Register must become mandatory through the adoption of a legislative act — as opposed to just an interinstitutional agreement — and be reinforced with additional resources. Ultimately, we need a clear commitment from all institutions to only accept meetings with registered lobbyists and to publish all lobbying meetings on a central website linked to the EU’s common transparency register. EU.

The scandal that is unfolding is horrible. Its very ugliness should motivate EU political leaders to finally put things right.

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