Parliament’s Qatargate debate: build a wall or look inside

The European Parliament panel charged with responding to the Qatargate bribery scandal is divided over whether the real threat comes from outside or from within.

The split came to the fore on Thursday, as lawmakers hurried to show they were taking the scandal seriously ahead of next year̵7;s European elections. report debate In relation to Parliament’s response to allegations of a cash-for-favors scheme involving current and former EU MPs on behalf of interests in Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania.

scam, which came to be known as QatargateIt was just one clear example of the need to shore up parliament’s “security culture”, said Slovak MEP Vladimir Bilicic, one of the file’s lead authors and a member of the centre-right European People’s Party.

He and French MEP Nathalie Loiseau, of the centrist Renew group, drafted a measure that sought to shield the democratically elected body from potentially nefarious non-EU influence while offering additional transparency. His proposals include stricter requirements for interest groups to register details in the EU’s lobbyist database, increased IT security and the extent to which MEPs can speak as representatives of Parliament on official visits.

EU MPs from left-leaning parties argue that yet the changes currently on the table are not enough to hold elected MPs themselves accountable.

The MPs from Qatargate were under some scrutiny. Pier Antonio Panzeri, accused of orchestrating a cash-for-influence scheme, was able to lobby his colleagues on the basis of his privileges as a former MEP. This goes beyond his non-governmental organization, Fight Impunity, remaining unlisted in the lobbyist database known as the Transparency Register, as would be required.

The biggest tussle could involve MPs’ own pocketbooks, predicted Andreas Scheider, the Austrian MEP who serves as S&D’s point person (or shadow co-ordinator) on file. He believes parliament should be “much stricter” when it comes to the cooling-off period between MEPs leaving office and starting lobbying for former colleagues. While Parliament’s rule-making bureau quickly imposed a six-month break, Scheider said this cooling-off period should be in line with international standards of one or two years.

“We also have to find tighter regulations to limit side jobs as much as possible,” Scheider said in an interview Wednesday.

Critics say the committee’s emphasis on external threats such as foreign countries seeking influence rather than internal morality lapses was initially baked-in by political choices.

As MEPs returned from winter break shaken by the arrests and investigations, they chose the path of least resistance. Rather than creating an entirely new investigative panel to deal with the fallout – thus trying to prevent a recurrence – he has worked to root out foreign interference in EU democracies from the likes of China and Russia. opted to reconstitute an existing committee to

Although this solution was faster than creating a committee from scratch, it lacked any internal checking power.

The panel’s name reflects its ballooning purpose: “Special Committee on Foreign Interference in All Democratic Processes in the European Union, including Dissolution, and Strengthening Integrity, Transparency and Accountability in the European Parliament.”

Yet despite its grandiose name, critics say the mindset of the committee – known in the jargon of the EU Parliament as ING2 – never went beyond its predetermined targeting of external actors.

The basic corruption issue “is not about a fight between authoritarianism and democracy or the invasion of Ukraine or espionage. It is not even specifically about foreign interference,” said Irish MEP Claire Daly, shadow ally for the left-wing group Instead, she said, the response should be about “accountability in this institution.” She argued that the new report largely replicated the efforts of the committee’s previous work.

Open government campaigners are frustrated that the measure does nothing to enforce existing rules of parliament. While President Roberta Metsola 14-point ethics overhaul As a form of rapid reform, the Parliament’s Inquiry Committee aimed to formulate comprehensive institutional reforms.

Transparency International’s Nick Ayosa, who called the proposal a “misguided attempt” to include tougher penalties for MEPs who break the rules, said the EU.

But Loiseau, the co-correspondent, had little patience for suggestions that the report didn’t do enough.

“Until now, we didn’t have enough transparency or security where it was needed. And so we’re going to try to strengthen both,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.

Eddie Wax contributed reporting.