Number of declarations of European Parliament members attending paid-for events soared since Qatargate, according to Transparency International EU

The number of declarations from members of the European Parliament disclosing events paid for by third parties has never been so high in three and a half years since the Qatargate, the corruption scandal which shook the European Parliament, broke out in December.

European Parliament building
European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France | © European Union 2023

There has been a surge of disclosure of events attended by members of the European Parliament paid by third parties since the Qatargate scandal. There were almost twice as many declarations in January 2023 as in any other month since July 2019, according to data published by Transparency International EU.

In the weeks following the corruption scandal, several dozen members of the European Parliament disclosed their attendance at events paid for by third parties on their individual pages of the European Parliament website.

While only ten declarations of events maximum per month were published in the previous 12 months, members of the European Parliament declared all of a sudden 36 events in December 2022 and 68 events in January 2023.

Often referred to as Qatargate, the ongoing corruption scandal that broke out in December 2022 shook the European Parliament with allegations of bribery to parliament members, money laundering, and influence by the governments of Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania. Eva Kaili, then one of the vice presidents of the European Parliament, the member of the European Parliament Antonio Panzeri, an assistant of the Italian MEP Alessandra Moretti were arrested by authorities on corruption charges. Ms. Kaili’s husband Francesco Giorgi, a former parliamentary assistant to Mr. Panzeri with whom he had founded a human rights NGO was also arrested.

In little more than two months, between December 8, 2022, and February 10, 2023, the declarations of events submitted by members of the European Parliament accounted for 32 percent of all the 321 declarations published since July 2019 and the start of the current parliamentary term, also marked by months of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

Members of the European Parliament must disclose every event organized by a third party where travel, accommodation or subsistence expenses were paid for or reimbursed by a third party to be published on their individual pages of the European Parliament website. The rule was included in the Parliament’s code of conduct in 2013 to ensure transparency and prevent undue influence.

But not only did MEPs increase the number of declarations of events that took place since December, they also declared events and travel they apparently forgot to report.

S&D, the group with the highest proportion of late declarations

Members of Parliament need to declare events organized by third parties no later than the last day of the next month following the event. And 67 percent of the events declared since the Qatargate were submitted late whereas they only accounted for 28 percent of the declarations before.

Not fewer than 39 in 705 members of the European Parliament submitted a declaration late since the Qatargate. And more may come.

The European People’s Party Group with 30 declarations since July 2019 has the largest number of late submissions overall. The center-right political group is the largest representation in the European Parliament. Late submissions account for 27 percent of declarations.

But proportionally, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) has the largest number of late declarations with 27 out of a total of 45 declarations (60%). Ms. Kaili, Mr. Panzeri, and Ms. Moretti were all members of the S&D.

Israel (30), India (23) and the United Arab Emirates (16) were the three favorite paid-for travel destinations outside the European Union since 2019. Most trips within the European Union fully covered by third parties were to Germany (41), France (14) and Poland (13).

The declarations submitted since December 2022 show that 67 percent of them are related to events taking place outside the European Union.

Israel (15), Morocco (8), and the United Arab Emirates (7) were the most declared destinations among members of the European Parliament since the Qatargate. Five declarations were related to Qatar, all of them in late submissions.

The member who filed the most declarations post-Qatargate (8) is José Ramón Bauzá Díaz, a member of the Renew Europe Group and representing Spain. In January 2023, he was late to declare 5 events: In Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and Poland. They took place between January 2020 and June 2022. It is another indication of the influence of the Qatargate over the rush for transparency by the Parliament: Mr. Bauzá Díaz became chair of the EU-Qatar friendship group in 2021.

A majority of late declarations (53%) since Qatargage took place before July 2022 and were submitted by 20 members of the European Parliament.

Following the Qatargate scandal, the European Parliament decided to strengthen transparency and accountability in its work. On February 8, the European Parliament group leaders endorsed a few changes before a larger reform aiming at “strengthening the Parliament’s integrity, independence and accountability.”

It includes among other actions making all information related to the integrity of the parliamentary work clearer online, the mandatory registration in the Transparency Register for any event with the participation of interest representatives in the European Parliament, and the ban of side friendship groups with third countries where official Parliamentary interlocutors already exist.

I promised quick and decisive action in response to trust lost. These reforms agreed today are a new start to strengthen the integrity, independence and accountability in the European Parliament,” said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola after the endorsement.

Transparency International EU argues the “reform proposals are a big step in the right direction but they don’t go far enough.” Because “self-policing doesn’t work,” it advocates for an independent EU ethics body with real powers of investigation and enforcement. The organization considers officials should be free to attend events organized by third parties but that the Parliament should cover the costs because the current practice “poses a threat to the integrity of the Parliament’s work and should be banned altogether.”

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