‘Inviolable’ MEPs set to test EU bids to raise ethical standards

Leading EU policymakers have pledged to reform ethical standards in the wake of the European parliament’s bribery scandal, addressing the culture of “no impunity” that some lawmakers have in the past. warning will be difficult to extinguish.

Věra Jourová, vice-president of the European Commission for values ​​and transparency, told the Financial Times she would use the scandal that rocked Brussels “to do the right thing” by pushing for reforms aimed at guarantees “the highest standards of integrity and independence” across EU institutions.

Belgian police, investigating allegations of bribery involving members of the European parliament and representatives of the governments of Qatar and Morocco, have so far arrested four suspects, including a former vice president. legislature. Scandal spread on Monday, after it emerged that Belgian prosecutors had asked parliament to lift the legal immunity of two of its other members.

Jourová wants to create an independent ethics body, strengthen transparent regulations and harmonize standards across all branches of the EU. Jourová, who leads the commission’s work on protecting EU democracy from foreign interference, said: “It is important to have strong, enforceable rules for all EU countries. organization — and does not grant waivers.

However, she faces skepticism from some in Brussels that efforts to strengthen ethical codes will bear fruit. “The proof of pudding is in eating,” said Michiel van Hulten, former MEP and now director of Transparency International. “The question is whether once the scandal has been passed, will parliament maintain momentum and implement these reforms.”

Prior to the scandal, parliament had been criticized for its poor record in enforcing current ethical standards.

A register of voluntary gifts for the current congressional term shows that only eight of the 705 MEPs have so far claimed anything. While MEPs are also intended to claim financial interests, they are subject to only limited examination for the purpose of establishing “general reasonableness,” according to the European Court of Auditors. report from 2019.

Mohammed Chahim, a Dutch MEP, described an environment where lobbyists are “annoying people in the hallways”. He added: “We have rules but they’re a bit too voluntary.”

Graph: Nearly 70% of employees have little or no knowledge of ways to report unethical behavior

one year 2018 report from Transparency International found that only 24 allegations of congressional code of conduct violations have been reported since it was introduced in 2012, with only one case sanctioned. Nearly a third of MEPs were also found to have outside work.

Daniel Freund, a German MEP who previously worked with Transparency International, including on the report, said: “There is a problem with impunity — people are not sanctioned and feel invulnerable. “The biggest problem with the ethical framework is that all organizations are self-contained and they don’t have a strong incentive to commit violations.”

The current scandal erupted last month when Eva Kaili, Greek MEP and former vice president, and three others were charged with allegations of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organization for allegedly received cash and other gifts to influence EU policy towards Qatar and Morocco, according to legal documents seen by the FT.

The Belgian Minister of Justice has disclosure that the current investigation begins in March 2021 and reaches the size of a large organized crime investigation. Kaili’s lawyer said that she refuse charges against her.

Chart: Almost half of employees have little or no knowledge of ethical frameworks

Alberto Alemanno, professor of EU Law at HEC Paris and founder of The Good Lobby, says a key test for upcoming reforms is whether the EU ethics enforcement body is really independent. established and reputable or not. political responsibility” to “legal responsibility”.

“I don’t feel there is much political interest to make this change,” the professor said.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said in December that she would create a new sanctions regime and strengthen whistleblower protection as part of a package of measures in response to bribery allegations she described. described as an “attack” on European democracy. Her proposal is expected this month.

Roberta Metsola
Roberta Metsola wants to strengthen whistleblower protections in response to the bribery scandal that has hit the EU © Stephanie LeCocq/EPA/Shutterstock

However, the problems are not limited to parliament. The committee is also under fire about officials’ “revolving doors” with the private sector, prompting the European ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, to warn that leaving the practice unchecked could erode public confidence them into EU institutions.

Committee chairwoman Ursula von der Leyen has long called for the creation of an overarching ethics body, but it is unclear whether the body will be limited to an advisory role or could also investigate and impose sanctions on its own. sanctions.

A Metsola spokesperson pointed to previous calls from parliament for a body that is both independent and empowered to punish unethical behavior in all EU institutions. “The aim is for MEPs, commissioners and other senior officials to follow the same codes of ethics,” he said.

Metsola’s proposals include a new mandatory transparency register of all meetings with any third-party MEPs or assistants, along with a new sanctions regime to be introduced to ensure compliance .

However, the idea of ​​a mandatory register has been thwarted by congress in recent years, as MEPs argue that such a register would impose a de facto limit on who they can meet. , which would impede the work of parliament.


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