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[Analysis] QatarGate in the European Parliament: an earthquake that reveals shortcomings

(B2) A vice-president of the European Parliament imprisoned. As well as a former president of the human rights commission. A MEP and several other parliamentary assistants searched, a renowned trade unionist implicated... In the midst of the FIFA World Cup, the revelation that Qatar passed suitcases of tickets to European officials to influence European opinion raises many questions.

One of the suspects, European Parliament Vice-President Eva Kaili meets Qatari Labor Minister Ali Bin Samikh Al Marri in Doha (photo: MOFA Qatar)

A total surprise

The procedure launched by the Belgian federal police and the financial prosecutor's office against several MEPs and parliamentary assistants came as a real surprise (read: [News] Arrests in Brussels for corruption in the European Parliament. Qatar in sight). No one seemed aware within the parliamentary institution, or even in the European bubble. Suffice to say that the revelations of the Belgians Le Soir and Knack, followed very quickly by confirmation from the federal prosecutor's office, have been causing a stir for a few days.

Flaws in the functioning of parliament

The fact that some have cashed in on their support with a sum of money casts more than unease over the parliamentary institution. It sows consternation all the more because some of the people involved directly (Pier Antonio Panzeri) or indirectly (Marc Tarabella) enjoyed an excellent reputation as people very committed to Europe and human rights. She also asks a number of questions about the flaws within the parliamentary institution, which is very concerned about respect for the rule of law.

A real earthquake

For the first time in its history, the European Parliament is faced with a major crisis, equivalent (all things considered) to that suffered by the European Commission at the time of the Cresson affair at the end of the 1990s. led to the fall of the Santer Commission, and resulted in a net weakening for years of the European executive... to the benefit of the Member States.

Devastating lobbying

What is not surprising, however, is the intense lobbying carried out by Qatar. If some had expressed themselves very quickly during the vote on the resolution at the last plenary (the MEP from the left Manon Aubry in particular or that of Renaissance, Pierre Karleskind), they were not legion at the time. Tongues are starting to loosen today. A bit late. The damage is done. The European Commission also seems very open to effective lobbying from Qatar (1).

Qatar, Morocco and others

Doha is not the only country to carry out such lobbying. Regularly, the echoes are made of the pressure of several countries, sensitive to the positions taken by the European Parliament. A paradox certainly. But outside the European Union, the positions taken by the European Parliament are closely watched, like milk on the fire, by foreign chancelleries. It's no secret that countries like Morocco, Turkey or the Central Asian republics — Kazakhstan in the lead... (read: The strange practices of a Central Asian state in Brussels) such as Azerbaijan — conduct very active lobbying to defend their interests and are sometimes at the limit of legality (2).

Facts denounced by the French MEP Raphaël Glucksmann (Place Publique / S&D) in an interview with B2 last March: “ If Russia carried out the interference in the most brutal and systematic way, there are others behind it. I am thinking of Qatar. It is another fundamental problem to have left Qatar to such an extent to make a deal in the political class. There is also Turkey, Azerbaijan " (read : Foreign interference. Russia, China, Qatar… Europe just has to prepare well (R. Glucksmann)).

China, Russia and USA

Pressure from China and Russia, using all methods, including espionage and entryism, has been well documented recently (read: The European Parliament closes its doors to Russian lobbies). But even so-called "friendly" countries, such as the United States, make their voices heard powerfully, almost summoning MEPs, in the event of endangering what they consider their interests (read: The United States launches a lobbying operation to undermine the European Defense Fund).

A revolution to produce within Parliament

If we discuss with individual deputies, some regularly report this type of pressure, others keep quiet, embarrassed or unconcerned about venting on what constitutes their ordinary life. This reality, the European Parliament must now take it head on. It could, for example, create a anti lobby office allowing its Members to denounce all these attempts. Bringing together these multiple pressures in reports made public, regularly, if necessary by press communication, would be a first way to try to reduce the pressure (3).

Summon ambassadors from countries pushing too hard

If need be, the presidency of the European Parliament, and the European authorities, could also use all their powers — as would any assembly or state subject to an infiltration attempt. Letters could be sent to applicants, or even made public. There is also nothing to prevent the summoning of ambassadors who work in a hidden way, even by cashing in on their services. In a cyclical way, logically, the Qatari ambassador to the EU should leave his post, or his recall be requested from the authorities in Doha.

The importance of the European Parliament

This case also reveals a fundamental point. The resolutions voted on and debated by the parliamentary assembly, sometimes in deafening silence, have an importance that many media ignore or underestimate. This is a point that I have been able to check regularly, with all the B2 journalists. As soon as we are in contact with a diplomat outside the European Union, he is very concerned about the position of the European Parliament which has enormous resonance beyond the borders (read: [Decryption] The emergency resolutions of the European Parliament, an inconvenient diplomatic voiceover).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. When you read the debate on the resolution carefully, you can see that the position taken by the social democrats — of course there are problems in Qatar, but it has made enormous progress — has been that, in for one word, of the European Commission. The European Commissioner (for Health), the Cypriot Stella Kyriakides (EPP), speaking on the subject – on behalf of the Commission – was more than prolific in praising the merits of Qatar. And there are many meetings between the various officials of Qatar and the Vice-President of the Commission, Margaritis Schinas (ND / EPP).
  2. Lobbying finally tolerated because Europe needs Qatar or Kazakstan more than ever, countries that supply raw materials (gas, oil, etc.).
  3. Some refer to an independent authority responsible for monitoring financial crimes. This body exists: theOLAF, the anti-fraud office, created in 1999, after the Santer affair.

Read also:

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

4 thoughts on “[Analysis] QatarGate in the European Parliament: an earthquake that reveals shortcomings"

  • That said, we have to reframe a little: 1/ it is not THE vice-president, but ONE of the 14 who is in question, with her own political role almost nil; 2 / it takes more than 4 deputies to have a real impact, at the limit, it would be necessary to buy 351 deputies; at the limit, it is Qatar that is being cheated!; 3/ Parliament has marginal powers in matters of foreign affairs, the real boss is the Council; 4/ if the Belgian justice detected the case, it is undoubtedly on denunciation, the Parliament is a village where everyone supervises everyone; 5/ it is an opportunity to realize that while the private sector is increasingly governed by the EU transparency register, third countries are on the other hand left free to exert pressure with complete impunity, openly or under cover of fake journalists and fake students…

    • Completely disagree with your interpretation. The acts and gestures of the European Parliament (movements, resolutions) — sometimes inaudible inside the EU — are carefully monitored outside the EU because they reflect an opinion. And to move a text, everything is good, political conviction, lobbying or more. One or two well-placed well-placed deputies sometimes make it possible to influence a text or light a firewall.

  • A Morocco-Gate also hides under Qatar and its influences (and is even older and more massive), as well as the United Emirates, but shh! it is better to remain silent and preserve a minimum of democracy and integrity, as much to focus on the traditional enemies of NATO, Russia and China. Deplorable Europe which is only digging its own grave.

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