Corruption: the European Parliament challenged by reforms

A month after the start of the resounding alleged corruption scandal, the European Parliament, its president in mind, will seek to clean up its practices and try to restore its image as quickly as possible.

“Integrity, independence, responsibility”: the Maltese Roberta Metsola showed her course on Thursday, before speaking Monday at 5:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. GMT) in the hemicycle of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, at the start of the first plenary session of the year.

Shaken just as she celebrates her first anniversary as President of the European Parliament, Ms Metsola has promised to act “quickly” to restore confidence in the only elected European institution, which is, she says, “modern and open”.

But many elected officials and observers are calling for more drive and audacity to restore the credibility of Parliament, which was struck by lightning in early December via Belgian justice.

In one weekend, the Greek socialist MEP Eva Kaili, then one of the vice-presidents (the institution has 14), is locked up, as is her spouse, a parliamentary assistant, and a influential former Italian MEP, charged with alleged corruption for the benefit of Qatar. Investigators seized during searches one and a half million euros in small denominations.

A few days later, meeting in Strasbourg, the stunned MEPs immediately withdrew Eva Kaili’s position as vice-president and demanded changes, in particular the suspension of Qatar’s access to Parliament while the judicial inquiry was under way and, at her issue, the creation of a commission of inquiry.

Implicated, the emirate “firmly rejects” the accusations of corruption. Morocco, whose name is also mentioned, denounces unjustified “media attacks”.

– EU credibility –

The ball is now in the court of Roberta Metsola, who promised in mid-December a “package of major reforms”.

She gave a broad overview on Thursday to the presidents of the parliamentary groups, who gave her the green light.

Among these first steps, “the starting point for a broader reform” of the institution, are the restriction of access to the European Parliament to former elected members, who until now kept the door open, or registration in the transparency register of all external parties.

Roberta Metsola also wants the gifts, trips or meetings of MEPs within the framework of their mandate to be published, as well as the sanctions imposed.

Professor of EU law at HEC, Alberto Alemanno does not believe that “the imposition of these small rules is sufficient to create a new political culture in the European Parliament”.

“This scandal is much more serious than the others for the credibility of the European Union, we could have expected a slightly more serious response, a little more structural than in the past”, considers the lawyer interviewed by AFP .

MEPs are giving voice.

Frenchman Stéphane Séjourné, head of the Renew group (centrists and liberals), insists on the need to create a “high authority for the transparency of public life at European level”, an idea already put on the table by the European Commission in the past but never materialized.

German ecologist Daniel Freund calls for the publication of the assets of elected officials at the start and end of their mandate, as well as better protection for internal whistleblowers in Parliament.

Co-president of the radical left group, Manon Aubry (LFI) warned that “negotiating the reforms (requested in December) and stunting them behind closed doors is not acceptable”.

– Waiver of immunity –

While the fear persists that the scandal will spread, Belgian justice has requested the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of two other MEPs from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group: the Belgian Marc Tarabella, whose home was searched in December, and the Italian Andrea Cozzolino.

Launched urgently at the beginning of January, the procedure for lifting immunity, which has several stages, will be officially communicated to MEPs on Monday for a hoped-for outcome in February.

On Wednesday, MEPs will also elect a new vice-president to replace Eva Kaili.

“There will be no impunity, absolutely none,” promised Roberta Metsola, who insists on her desire to toughen the existing rules. But the translation into action of this displayed determination will be carefully scrutinized.

At 18 months from the next European elections, the reaction to the explosion of “Qatargate” is “a very strong issue, much stronger than the European leaders want to recognize”, considers Alberto Alemanno.

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