Scandal-hit EU assembly set to move on anti-corruption plan

Jan 10, 2023, 5:07 PM | Updated: Jan 11, 2023, 9:02 am
FILE - European Parliament President Roberta Metsola speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU...

FILE - European Parliament President Roberta Metsola speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, on Dec. 15, 2022. European Parliament President Roberta Metsola on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023 launched an urgent procedure for the waiver of immunity of two lawmakers following a request from Belgian judicial authorities investigating a major corruption scandal rocking EU politics. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

(AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Spurred into action by a major corruption scandal, the European Parliament president wants to prevent former lawmakers from lobbying on behalf of businesses or governments soon after they leave office and to make public the names of current members who break assembly rules, a parliamentary official said Wednesday.

Parliament President Roberta Metsola also seeks tougher checks on lobbyists and the public listing of any meetings that lawmakers may have with them, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the measures haven’t yet been endorsed by parliament.

The plans were divulged just a month after Belgian authorities arrested four people on charges of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization. Lawmakers and officials concede that it may be the biggest corruption scandal to have hit the European Union.

Those charged include a member of the parliament, Eva Kaili, and her boyfriend Francesco Giorgi, an assistant there. They are accused of working with former EU lawmaker Pier Antonio Panzeri who, according to an arrest warrant, “is suspected of intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco” in exchange for payment.

Belgian justice authorities also want parliament to lift the immunity of two other serving EU lawmakers, Italian Andrea Cozzolino and Belgian Marc Tarabella. Both deny involvement. The fourth person currently facing charges is Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, head of the charity group No Peace Without Justice.

“There are not only procedures but very serious laws that have been broken,” the official said. “We understand that the trust that has been placed in the European Parliament has taken a hit, around Europe amongst citizens.”

The measures, to be debated Thursday among political group leaders, are an attempt “to rebuild that trust,” the official said. He described it as “the biggest shake-up when it comes to ethics, when it comes to accountability, when it comes to integrity of the European Parliament” in years.

The official said the plans would introduce spot checks on lawmakers’ financial disclosures and links to non-EU countries. They would strip former members of special access badges and oblige them to go through a fast-track process to enter parliament. Other visitors would face more scrutiny.

The centerpiece is an unprecedented measure meant to stop the parliament being used as a “revolving door” by lawmakers once their term has ended. Currently, they are entitled to an allowance for up to two years to help them as they transition to other jobs. Metsola wants to stop them lobbying for a substantial amount of time, or forfeit their allowance.

In an attempt to change the behavior of lawmakers unfazed by modest fines but concerned about their image, the official said Metsola wants to set up a page on the parliament’s website where the public can see what kind of sanctions their elected representatives might face for misbehavior.

The measures, some of which Metsola believes could be enacted within weeks, are sure to be met with some objections from members of the 705-seat assembly from around the 27-country EU who might oppose the added burden of obeying new rules about who they talk to.

German Green parliamentarian Daniel Freund, the assembly’s negotiator working on establishing an independent EU ethics body, said that the proposals “are going in the right direction.”

“However, the reform package still falls short. Disclosure of (lawmakers’) assets at the beginning and end of the legislature is perhaps the strongest incentive against accepting bribes,” Freund said in a statement. He also said that lawmakers’ staff and other officials “must be better protected as whistleblowers.”

The corruption scandal hit the spotlight as Qatar hosted the soccer World Cup. The small, energy-rich Gulf nation has seen its international profile rise as Doha used its massive offshore natural gas fields to make the country one of the world’s richest per-capita, and to power its regional political ambitions.

The EU assembly has halted work on files involving Qatar as it investigates what impact the cash-and-gifts-for-influence bribery scandal might have had. Qatar and Morocco deny involvement.

Separately, the political group most deeply mired in the scandal – the Socialists and Democrats – chose Luxembourg lawmaker Marc Angel to replace Kaili as a parliament vice president. Kaili was ousted from the post after her arrest. The full assembly is expected to vote on Angel’s nomination next week.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Scandal-hit EU assembly set to move on anti-corruption plan