By Sara D’Elia
Almost four months have passed since one of the biggest scandals concerning the European Union, i.e. Qatargate. Nonetheless, it has already been shadowed by other current events, such as the war in Ukraine and the related sanctions towards Russia – one of the topics at the center of the EU’s institutions’ interest – together with migration concerns and climate policy implementation. At the beginning of 2023 the European Parliamentary Research Service produced an in-depth analysis on which topics would be at the heart of EU’s discussions throughout the year. Many policy areas are included in that list: cyber-resilience, 2024 elections, increasing fuel prices, EU recovery instrument, and so on. However, the fight against corruption and a commitment in strengthening transparency within the EU institutions after the Qatargate scandal are unfortunately not taken into consideration.
A brief excursus of the facts
The institution directly affected by such an event was the European Parliament. On 9th December 2022 news about police raiding dwellings of personalities related to the afore-mentioned institution spread across the whole world. One of the suspects is Eva Kaili, vice-president of the European Parliament until the corruption allegations. The former vice-president has been found with €150.000 cash hidden inside her apartment in Brussels. Also, her family is involved in the illegal operations: her father – who was arrested the same day when leaving a hotel in the Belgian capital with a suitcase full of cash – and Francesco Giorgi, parliamentary assistant and Kaili’s partner.
Together with Eva Kaili, the other investigated figures are Antonio Panzeri – former MEP and later founder of the “Fight Impunity” NGO; Niccolò-Figà Talamanca, general secretary of the “No Peace Without Justice” NGO; Marc Tarabella, member of the European Parliament from the socialist party, included in the investigations only in February 2023.
The allegations against them concern suspected agreements with Qatar and some of the Maghreb countries for mutual favors. In exchange for money, Qatar would get to influence decisions in the European headquarters and have exclusive rights on investments and acquisitions in the areas of defense, real estate and export of liquified natural gas. Such favors apparently helped the country achieve its strategic objectives and improve their image in the Western world. Although Qatar is famous for often neglecting the respect for human rights, especially in the field of labor, Kaili and the other suspects would not hold back from defending the country and shaping a positive image of it: in fact, Kaili celebrated the “commitment of Qatar in proceeding with labor reforms” and referred to the country as a “leader in labor rights”. As the investigations went on, the overall number of suspected people in the scandal reached more than 60 MEPs, accused of corruption, money laundering and criminal conspiracy and association.
The scandal’s latest developments
Even though Qatargate is no longer on the front page of newspapers and TV news, there are some developments in the investigations that are worthy of our attention. All suspects have been arrested as a precautionary measure until the final sentence. Former MEP Antonio Panzeri agreed to share information about the operations in exchange for a reduced sentence, therefore admitting his participation in the case. Andrea Cozzolino – Italian member of parliament of the Democratic Party and MEP – was suspended from his office in Brussels and from the Democratic Party due to an alleged involvement in the Qatargate scandal, according to Panzeri’s information. He claims his innocence; however, he is currently waiting for the extradition hearing to Belgium.
A positive outcome was destined to Talamanca, instead, who has been released from jail without any condition. On the contrary, Kaili – whose lawyer is pushing for an electronic tag to let her see her 2-year-old daughter – has received an extension of the detention of at least two more months, together with Marc Tarabella. Such a decision by the Brussels Court of Appeal will allow officers to go on with the investigations.
Will Qatargate have an impact on the credibility of the EU?
After such a corruption scandal, the European Union – whose core values are democracy, equality and the respect for human rights – might be negatively affected by the allegations against members of the most democratic institution of the EU, i.e. the European Parliament. Specifically, it might have an influence on the public opinion, in a time when right-wing parties are taking advantage of people’s discontent. Indeed, Hungarian prime minister Orbán – famous for his antidemocratic sentiment – did not hold back from sharing his opinion about the event, posting on Twitter: “And then they said the EP is seriously concerned about corruption in Hungary”. Furthermore, he added later on that it was time to “drain the swamp”, suggesting that the European Parliament should be abolished.
Important personalities within the EU also referred to the scandal as something that could be very “damaging to the credibility of the EU” – said Charles Michel, President of the European Council – and this has to be considered an “attack to the EU democracy from autocratic third countries”, stated the European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
Although the European institutions seem to have already moved on from the scandal in only four months, it is crucial to bring the fight against corruption also inside the EU. As we all have witnessed, even the most democratic institution is not excused from the risk of corrupt and illegal subterfuges. This means that it is necessary to strengthen rules about transparency, as well as creating a forum both in the EU institutions and in the public arena to address the issue. Furthermore, it might be the time to implement the idea of setting up “an independent ethics body common for all EU institutions”, which was born at the beginning of Ursula Von Der Leyen’s office in 2019. This body would have the power to check on the legality of operations of all officers of the EU, while operating as a super partes actor to maintain the European Union valuable and credible.