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Politics

EU Chief Calls for Harmonized Ethics Rules amid Scandal

December 12, 2022

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top official called Monday for the creation of an independent ethics body covering all of the bloc’s institutions and said allegations of corruption targeting a vice president of the EU legislature were of “utmost concern.”

Belgian prosecutors investigating possible influence peddling at the European Parliament charged four people over the weekend with corruption, participation in a criminal group and money laundering. Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili of Greece was relieved of her duties.

Authorities said a Gulf country was suspected of offering cash or gifts to parliament officials in exchange for political favors. Prosecutors declined to identify the country, but several members of the assembly and some Belgian media linked the investigation to Qatar, which is currently hosting soccer’s gala event, the World Cup.

Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied any wrongdoing.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive arm, said the accusations against Kaili threatened the confidence EU citizens have put in the 27-nation bloc’s institutions.

“This confidence and trust in our institutions need highest standards of independence and integrity,” von der Leyen said during a news conference.

She said the independent ethics body she proposed establishing would cover lobbying activities at the European Commission, the European Council and European Parliament, as well as at the European Central Bank, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors.

The EU does not already have comprehensive lobbying regulations.

“The principles of having such an ethics body where there are very clear rules on what has to be checked, how and when and what has to be published, how and when would be a big step forward,” she said.

On Friday, police in Belgium’s capital carried out multiple raids as part of the investigation and reported seizing around 600,000 euros ($633,500) in cash, computer equipment and mobile telephones. The federal prosecutor’s office, without identifying any individual, said four of six people detained that day were subsequently charged, and two were released.

Prosecutors have confirmed that a parliament member was arrested but declined to confirm it was Kaili, 44, a former TV news anchor,. They said they suspect “the payment of large sums of money, or the offer of significant gifts” to people holding with influential positions at the European Parliament.

In Athens, Greek government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said the accusations against Kaili represented “a very serious case that is in the hands of Belgian justice” and “creates one more rift in the credibility and trust in European institutions and the European Parliament.”

The European Parliament begins its last plenary session of the year in Strasbourg, France, on Monday.

Manon Aubry, the Left group’s co-president at Parliament, said her group would ask for a debate and a resolution on the scandal, with the aim of implementing “way stricter rules.”

“The battle continues: Our democracy is not for sale,” Aubry wrote on Twitter.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola relieved Kaili of her duties over the weekend. Kaili’s party in Greece also suspended her party in Greece and the EU assembly’s Socialists and Democrats group also suspended her.

Kaili’s party in Greece, the Socialist Pasok-Movement for Change, publicly distanced itself from remarks she made in the EU parliament last month praising Qatar,

Qatar came under heavy international pressure to introduce labor reforms in recent years as it sought to build new World Cup stadiums in record time, often using migrant workers who toiled for long hours under harsh conditions.

The EU and Qatar have strengthened their economic relationships since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Moscow slashed supplies of natural gas used to heat homes, generate electricity and power industry in Europe in response to EU sanctions, worsening an energy crisis that is fueling inflation.

The EU has looked for alternatives to buy liquefied natural gas on a long-term basis, notably in Qatar. In April, the European Commission proposed lifting visa requirements for short EU stays by Qatari nationals.

Asked whether Belgian authorities were in touch with the European Commission as part of their investigation, von der Leyen said she had no clue. She added that rhe commission was reviewing its own political transparency register.

“If any kind of new information occurs, we will have to act and react to that,” she said.

 

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