The EU corruption scandal exposes European Parliamentarianism to the core

  • Hamzah Rifaat 
  • Source: Al Mayadeen English
  • 21 Dec 16:22

By rocking the EU’s legislature to the very core, the 2022 scandal has revealed the depth of the corruption plaguing parliament, and put the spotlight on the EU accountability mechanism over its inability to weed out foreign influence in its daily undertakings.

For much of its failure to come up with robust mechanisms for peace, sustainability, and energy security on the European continent, the EU parliament’s bribery scandals of 2022 have revealed the fickle nature of its tall transparency claims. For decades, Europe, as a continent of colonizers has lectured sovereign states on the need to promote greater accountability, uphold the rule of law, and ensure across-the-board transparency for more prosperous societies. Yet its own corruption scandals involving the 2022 FIFA World Cup host, Qatar, has dented its credibility to the core with the allegations leveled, exposing the merits of European Parliamentarianism and the principles it espouses for a meritorious world.

According to EU Parliament leader Roberta Metsola, the scandals have brought difficult days for European democracy. He was alluding to Greek MEP Eva Kaili, alongside her husband and aide to Italian MEP, Andrea Cozzolino, Francesco Giorgi, and her father Alexandros Kailis, being implicated by Belgian authorities. Furthermore, the chief of the International Trade Union Confederation, Luca Visentini, and former member of the European Parliament, Antonio Panzeri, were charged by Belgian investigators who uncovered 1.5m Euros in two homes and a suitcase. Based on numbers alone, revelations from prosecutors point at 600,000 Euros found at the home of one suspect, 150,000 Euros found in the flat of another, while a further 750,000 Euros were found in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room. The severe gravity of the offences committed, despite MEP Kaili pleading innocent, points to how sitting EU parliamentarians become embroiled in money laundering, corruption, and criminality which is a travesty for European democratic values.

These revelations also cast a shadow on the operations of numerous lobby groups that lure in EU parliamentarians to siphon out funds and promote their vested interests that run contrary to principles that the EU seeks to uphold globally. Prosecutors, for example, claimed that certain MEPs gave a free license to Gulf states to influence economic and political decision-making on behalf of the parliament for several months. This includes Greek MEP Eva Kaili, whose responsibility as vice president included dealing with the Middle East. 

As aptly stated by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, anyone accepting kickbacks, bribes, and payoffs has embarrassed the European people and violated their trust. Kaili’s example makes it clear that political lobbying for a greater share of funds is more of a moral imperative for certain European MEPs rather than upholding European values. Much of the lobbying from countries such as Qatar is also geared at ensuring that EU policymaking caters to foreign policy priorities of other states instead of the bloc.

MEP Kaili went against the EU’s standard approach of extending unwavering support for protecting human rights by praising Qatar as a frontrunner in labor rights across the world. In exchange for adopting a crassly inadequate stance on human rights which is inconsistent with EU values, MEPs are provided with lavish holidays and lucrative cash donations from the influencing state. This is clearly illegal and a violation of the EU’s parliamentary laws. 

By rocking the EU’s legislature to the very core, the 2022 scandal has also put the spotlight on the EU accountability mechanism over its inability to weed out foreign influence in its daily undertakings. Such crass lobbying and unabashed money laundering eventually prompted the anti-corruption organization, Transparency International (TI) to call for an independent ethics watchdog to be established and oversee EU institutions in the aftermath of the scandal.

For impartial analysts, it is simply degrading that the EU as an entity cannot be trusted with its internal accountability mechanisms, as calls for independent inquiries increase. TI’s EU Director, Michiel van Hulten stated clearly that this corruption scandal is not a novelty, as for decades the EU parliament permitted a culture of impunity to develop. This includes the combination of lax financial rules and regulations as well as a complete dearth of independent ethics oversight. Hence, the EU cannot be considered as a benchmark for global anti-corruption drives. 

According to Professor of European Union Law at HEC Paris, Dr. Alberto Alemanno, this scandal goes down as one of the greatest and most shocking violations in European political history. His analysis also focuses on how one of the three institutions out of the European Council, Commission, and the European Parliament, is the weakest link in the European Integrity System, where the Parliament has the least amount of checks and controls. The fact that no MP is sanctioned for misreporting or failing to report meetings, gifts, and donations is a staggering reality for a continent that has espoused parliamentary norms and openness as the guiding model for state governance throughout the world. 

What this scandal has unfortunately done, however, is embolden the far right in Europe, which holds nativist, anti-globalist views. The entire notion of multilateralism is being questioned by leaders who hold views akin to Viktor Orban of Hungary or Marine Le Pen in France. Such impunity permeating across the parliament also speaks volumes of the double standards applied conveniently by European states while judging other countries and their unique political systems. It also brings into question the various yardsticks that the EU employs while passing legislation against or condemning human rights violations as mentioned by Dr. Philip Nichols, an expert on corruption from the University of Pennsylvania. 

What is true is that after these bribery scandals, any resolution which will be passed by the EU Parliament will not be considered credible as future points of reference. That itself is a damning indictment. The opinions mentioned in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Al mayadeen, but rather express the opinion of its writer exclusively.