“The European Parliament, dear colleagues, is under attack. European democracy is under attack.”
With these words began the response of the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, to the scandal already known as Qatargate, an alleged attempt to bribe members linked to the European institutions by the small Gulf country - and which also affects Morocco - with the aim of gaining greater influence in European decisions.
Qatargate became publicly known after the first revelations of the Belgian newspaper ‘Le Soir’ and the weekly ‘Knack’ on Friday, December 9, 2022, a date that would mark a very hard month of December for European democracy.
It can be said that the European institutions and their workers were already used to receiving external lobbyists of all kinds - Brussels is the second city in the world with the highest number of lobbies: there are 11,000 lobbies to which embassies must also be added - , but until now none had allowed themselves to be corrupted to the point of crossing the limits of the fundamental values on which the European Union is based, such as the rule of law, democracy and human rights.
This corruption case has highlighted the need to reinforce two main issues: firstly, the commitment of the European Union to human rights and the total rejection of decisions contrary to human dignity, such as omitting the violation of human rights in Qatar by accepting its (attempted) influence on the institutions; and secondly, the mechanism of transparency in Europe. So far, the biggest implicated in the scandal, seriously threatening Europe’s reputation, is the now former Vice- President of the European Parliament, Eva Kailli, who was even voted person of the year 2011 in the German magazine “Der Spiegel”.
Kaili’s career in politics began in her youth when she decided to join the Panhellenic Camp of Militant Students and the Youth of PASOK, the social democratic party of Greece. In 2007, at the age of 29, Kailí was elected MP with PASOK Social Democrats in the Greek Parliament and with this formation she was elected MEP in 2014. Her political career took a further leap at the beginning of 2022 when she was elected vice-president of the European Parliament, but her rise turned out to be nothing more than a leap into the void since, at the end of the year, she would end up betraying the institution.
After the scandals that stunned the whole of Europe, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, suspended Kaili from her functions as an MEP and she was removed from the group of European social democrats - “we are also victims”, said Iratxe García Pérez, the president of the S&D Group - and from PASOK, with whom she had had a tense relationship for some time.
According to the PASOK president, Nikos Andrulakis, Kaili acted as “a Trojan horse of the conservatives”, emphasizing the tense situation she maintained with the party. In the same way, it could be said that Kaili also acted as a Trojan horse at the international level sent from Doha to Brussels, exposing how Qatar “is a leader in human rights” or how it was the “perfect example of sports diplomacy”, hiding the lack of protection of human rights in the country.
Kaili is scheduled to appear before the judge on December 22, after not having been able to appear previously due to a civil servants’ strike. The council chamber of the Brussels Court of First Instance investigating the alleged corruption scandal will then make a decision. For the moment, she maintains that the relations with Doha were professional and within the European strategic framework regarding the countries of the Gulf. Furthermore, Kaili says she was unaware of the funds found in her home, and in a suitcase carried by her father.
However, the declarations of her partner - also arrested - last December 15, exonerate her from the case. Francesco Giorgi, a parliamentary assistant, confessed to the Belgian judicial authorities that, as suspected, he was part of an organization that worked to influence European institutions in favor of Qatar, and also Morocco, in exchange for bribes. Giorgi pointed to Pier Antonio Panzeri as the mastermind of the operation. Panzeri is a former Italian socialist MEP and head of the NGO Fight Impunity which, according to the investigation, was financed by donations from the countries involved in exchange for fulfilling their part of the deal and favoring these countries in Europe.
An interesting fact is that the organization, founded in 2019 - to which Panzeri was dedicated full time after his passage in the presidency of the subcommittee on human rights of the Parliament - has in its honorary board relevant figures in Italian politics, such as Emma Bonino, former Italian foreign minister, and Federica Mogherini, former high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, although none of these honorary members had executive or managerial functions.
Giorgi also declared two more possible suspects: the Belgian Marc Tarabella and the Italian Andrea Cozzolino, both MEPs. However, the list of suspects is longer and there are several speculations in the international press.
At the moment there are three arrested: Kaili, Giorgi and Panzieri. At least 1.5 million in cash were found by the Belgian police in searches of their homes.
Also involved in the investigation is the NGO “No Peace Without Justice”, which has had its activities suspended. Its head, Nicollo-Figa Talamanca, has been released with an electronic bracelet.
Europe’s response to the whole scandal has been categorical. “There will be no impunity,” said Metsola in her speech. The European Union is now working to implement a new package of measures aimed at strengthening transparency mechanisms in the institutions with respect to three dimensions: the
corrupt, those who corrupt and the structures that facilitate corruption. These include the review of relations and friendship groups with third countries to avoid foreign interference in their policies, and the introduction of strict transparency registers to detect “bad apples” within the institutions.
It is certainly a pity that the reputation and values that have been built up in Europe for years have been seriously affected in a case of corruption that some see as an isolated case and others as the tip of the iceberg. “For four people the damage is done to the institution” commented Javier Moreno, president of the Spanish Socialist delegation in the European Parliament.
Be it four, five or many more, what is clear is that there is a lot of work ahead to strengthen transparency mechanisms in the European Union.
Some are even proposing a new institution to watch over future cases because, unfortunately, corruption is not an uncommon practice in politics, so the response - to which the Metsola Parliament is more than willing - has to be forceful, firm and with zero tolerance to any kind of interference.