The European Union’s parliament was reeling last week with its credibility under threat, as a corruption scandal damaged MEPs’ careers and fingers were pointed at Qatari officials accused of bribing them to play down labour rights concerns ahead of the World Cup.
The European Union’s parliament was reeling Tuesday with its credibility under threat, as a corruption scandal damaged lawmakers’ careers and fingers were pointed at Qatari officials accused of bribing them to play down labour rights concerns ahead of the World Cup.
Hundreds of thousands of euros have been found in homes and a suitcase in a hotel room.
The General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Luca Visentini, who was questioned by prosecutors over the affair, insisted Tuesday that he is “innocent of any wrongdoing,” and “absolutely committed to the fight against corruption.”
The scandal has rocked the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the Parliament. The group brings together centre-left parties from across Europe. It remains the second-largest group in the 705-seat assembly but lost more than 30 seats in the last election as public support waned.
In a bid to respond to the damaging scandal, the group of MEPs issued a statement last week pledging to a resolution against corruption in the institution.
But they excluded right-wing MEPs from the League Party to co-sign it.
In a statement sent to Express.co.uk, the Italian MEPs led by Marco Zanni said: “The League presented some amendments to the European Parliament to the resolution on Qatargate, a provision from which we were arbitrarily excluded after contributing to its own drafting.
“Among these, common-sense proposals such as ascertaining political responsibilities, inviting all elected officials to reveal links or benefits received from Qatar and NGOs, a more stringent revision of the rules on NGOs themselves and an in-depth investigation into Qatar’s influence on EU institutions.
“The left, or that same political family at the centre of the international scandal, opposed our amendments, which obtained cross-party support. What are they hiding? Why this defence to the bitter end of NGOs and their obscure modus operandi? In addition to the damage, the insult: an insult to the decency and intelligence of millions of European citizens who today, like all of us, are asking for clarity on a shameful affair. If you want to fight immunity, you have to do it with concrete facts, not just with words.”
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Prosecutors have charged four people, who have not been identified, with corruption, participation in a criminal group and money laundering. Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili of Greece was among them. MEPs voted overwhelmingly last week to terminate her term in office.
Kaili, a 44-year-old Greek former TV presenter, is from the S&D. Belgian EU MEP Marc Tarabella stood down as a group member on Monday, suggesting he might be among those charged. Three other S&D MEPs have temporarily stopped doing senior duties, apparently because their parliamentary assistants were implicated.
Belgian authorities have not identified the Gulf country suspected of offering cash or gifts to officials but several members of the assembly and some Belgian media have linked the investigation to Qatar.
“Qatar has bought the votes of this assembly in order to cover up the exploitation and death of migrant workers on the World Cup infrastructures,” Manon Aubry, co-chair of the Left group, said Monday.
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Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs insists the allegations are “baseless and gravely misinformed.”
Senior members of the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, have praised the labour reforms Qatar made ahead of the World Cup. In April, the commission also began a drive to provide visa-free travel for Qataris holding biometric passports who want to come to Europe for short stays, although the parliament has shelved its role in that process in light of the investigation.
Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, who travelled to Qatar for the World Cup as sports is one of his files, insisted Tuesday that in his remarks and tweets “I religiously, scrupulously reproduced commission policy.”
Schinas said that he plans to keep using Twitter. “Thank God I did that. You can imagine what type of criticism I would have gotten if I hadn’t tweeted.” He said that he received a World Cup soccer ball and some chocolates from Qatari officials during his trip.