Scandals and corruption in the EU Parliament are growing

It has been far too easy to be a corrupt politician in the EU, believes EU parliamentarian for Enhedslist, Nikolaj Villumsen. For years, brutal regimes have been able to buy themselves silence when they violated human rights.
Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Arrested EU politicians, ransacked offices, suitcases with stacks of cash, and rumors of interference from foreign intelligence services. Welcome to the EU Parliament’s biggest scandal ever – the so-called Qatar Gate / Morocco Gate corruption case.
When the EU Parliament’s traveling circus packed up to leave Brussels for the year’s first meeting in Strasbourg, there was a special item on the agenda: the election of a new deputy chairman.
It became necessary after the now-former vice-chairman, Greek Eva Kaili, was arrested in Brussels in flagrant delict in December – or with her fingers in the cake tin, as you can say in good Danish – as part of the Qatar Gate corruption scandal.
The scandal develops

The vote comes during the same parliamentary session, where it has been formally announced that – following a request from the Belgian police – the immunity of two more members of the EU Parliament will be lifted. It happens to both an Italian and a Belgian now-former member of the social democratic group.
It underlines how the scandal continues to develop. What started with “only” being about the wealthy dictatorship of Qatar, which is accused of having bribed EU politicians to promote the emirate’s agenda. From here, however, it has spread, and several of the same people go again in what is called Morocco Gate.
We have also seen the stories about one of the social democratic group’s foreign policy advisers, who has now been suspended because of the scandal – and who is even accused by some of almost having been an agent for Iran. This is in addition to the fact that several EU parliamentarians have been on a trip to Qatar, paid for by the regime, but who unfortunately, and cleverly, apparently “forgot” to inform about it.
Shhh, don’t mention Western Sahara

For Morocco, it was not about the soccer World Cup, and a desire for the world not to notice the many exploited migrant workers. No, the focus here was on the situation in Western Sahara. Or perhaps I should rather say, to avoid that Morocco’s decades-old, and completely illegal, occupation of Western Sahara should attract the attention of my colleagues in the EU Parliament.
It has never been a secret that Morocco is very sensitive to criticism of their brutal behavior. Something that shows that criticism works. But it can still surprise me exactly HOW sensitive they are. It appears that Morocco has even sought to manipulate the EU Parliament’s annual awarding of the Sakharov Prize, in order to avoid that activist from Western Sahara – such as the human rights activist Sultana Khaya – should be among the finalists. It was otherwise something that we in the Left Wing Group had worked hard for. In fact, it also looked like it would succeed – but only until the social democratic group suddenly decided that it would rather support the extreme right’s candidate instead: the Bolivian far-right politician Jeanine Áñez – specifically to block Khaya’s candidacy.
A terrifying image

In other words, it is a sad picture of the EU Parliament: how silence about human rights violations is obviously something that can be bought for some.
The fact that it could be done on such a large scale and without suspicion should not come as a complete shock, because the fact is that the rules for lobbying and openness are almost comically weak.
It is, for example, only those who work directly with a specific proposal who have to disclose who they have met with in that connection – just as there is no overview whatsoever of lobbying efforts from countries outside the EU. This applies both if they run a business or if they go through lobbying companies. Here, the EU system lags far behind a country like the USA, while even Britain has stricter rules for politicians to give up when they receive trips and other gifts from other countries.
Need for reforms

If anything, the scandal underlines the urgent need for reforms not least of the EU Parliament’s own rules. That something must change seems to have gradually dawned on even many of the most change-resistant forces in the EU Parliament. That is why we also saw stories in Brussels that reforms are now coming. This was not least true when the conservative chairman Roberta Metsola presented the leaders of the political groups with a total of 14 reform points at a closed meeting.
It sounded good, and for a brief moment their spin worked, but for most, only until they read the various suggestions. Not surprisingly, what is proposed is mostly a combination of rules that should have been introduced a long time ago, and loose words that: “We must do more about corruption”. In the same way, the civic leader of the EU Parliament believes that the way forward must be to offer training in whistleblowing – instead of offering real protection for whistleblowers.
The flaws in the play are many – and so are the omissions. Hopefully, we will get it raised in the right direction, and will thus ensure more openness and control over who has an influence on policy in the EU Parliament. At the same time, I am crossing my fingers that the costs for the countries involved will be so high that others will think twice before trying to copy their model.
Mindsets must be changed
Even if we get the best reforms in the world, the Holy Sepulcher is not well preserved. Unfortunately, stricter rules can only solve part of the problem, not all of it. Part of what has happened has only been possible because quite a few EU politicians, often without being aware of it, have allowed themselves to be used as part of the money laundering of various regimes. Only one thing works against that: A change in mentality.
The fact is that it has long been the case that the EU Parliament’s three major groups: the Conservatives in EPP, the Social Democrats in S&D, and the Liberals in Renew Europe, have chosen to keep their hands over various unappetizing regimes and actions with various excuses. It has helped to create a political environment where it has become normal to avoid justified criticism of this or that country, for reasons that often have very little to do with the specific case. It could be that people are “strategic partners”, “stable in a troubled corner of the world” or 117 other poor excuses.
If that environment had not existed to begin with, those involved in the scandal would have had a much more difficult time and achieved much worse results.
Where do we stand now?
So where does that leave us? Yes, it puts us where we really need real and strong reforms – but also where there is a need for a change in mentality and how politicians should be questioned when they try to tone down the criticism of this or that regime.
If we in the EU Parliament do not actually learn from the mistakes that led to the Qatar Gate and Morocco Gate scandals, then we will probably be doomed to see variations of them play out again and again.