Corruption scandal prompts call for scrapping of European Parliament

Eva Kaili: Germany needs to redistribute Eurozone wealth fairly

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Allegations of bribery and corruption centred on the European Parliament prove the ‘failing’ assembly should be scrapped once and for all, a Brussels-based expert has said. Pieter Cleppe, a research fellow with the think tank Property Rights Alliance, was speaking after a tumultuous period which has seen more than 20 premises raided by police and four people charged with corruption, participation in a criminal group and money laundering, including Greek MEP Eva Kaili.

Belgian authorities have not identified the country suspected of offering cash or gifts to officials but several members of the assembly and some Belgian media have linked the investigation to World Cup hosts Qatar – allegations vehemently denied by the Gulf state.

Asked by whether the bloc should take drastic action and pull the plug completely, Mr Cleppe said: “Yes. It not is not the first time to see the European Parliament facing corruption scandals. In the past, MEPs were jailed for taking bribes in the so-called cash for influence scandal in 2011

On top of that, there is the EPs’ lavish expenses system, which shows the total disregard the institution has for the taxpayers by whom they are funded.”

Referring to the use by MEPs of two separate chambers, Mr Cleppe added: “The European Parliament’s travelling circus to Strasbourg continues to be a running scandal.

“Fundamentally, the European Parliament is not an effective check on executive power. Importantly, the European Parliament has not once refused to sign off the EU’s budget, despite the  serious criticism the EU’s own accounting body has been expressed towards EU spending. MEPs love to lecture the whole wide world, but the one task they have – hold the EU institutions to account – they fail to do.”

Mr Cleppe concluded: “The original idea of a European Parliament as a check on EU power makes sense, but clearly, the European Parliament has failed to fulfil this task successfully, both when it comes to reining in the EU machine and its own financial accountability”

The scandal, which began unfolding publicly last week, has damaged the reputation of the EU’s only institution comprising officials elected directly in the 27 member countries.

Ghent University Professor Hendrik Vos, an EU expert, said: “It is so profound because it jars so fundamentally with what parliament pretends to stand for.

“The parliament pretends to stand for transparency, unable to be bribed, to defend fundamental values. And then you get something like this.”

Referring to her barely suppressed “fury, my anger, my sorrow,” Parliament President Roberta Metsola told EU lawmakers on Monday that “European democracy is under attack.”

While they convened in Strasbourg, France, Belgian police picked up a haul of computer data from the assembly’s other seat in Brussels.

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Hundreds of thousands of Euros have been found in homes and a suitcase in a hotel room.

The General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Luca Visentini, who was questioned by prosecutors over the affair, insisted Tuesday that he is “innocent of any wrongdoing,” and “absolutely committed to the fight against corruption.”

MEPs voted yesterday to terminate 44-year-old Ms Kaili’s term in office as one of the Parliament’s 14 Vice-Presidents.

Former television presenter Ms Kaili, 44, is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the Parliament.

Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella stood down as a group member on Monday, suggesting he might be among those charged.

Three other S&D lawmakers have temporarily stopped doing senior duties, apparently because their parliamentary assistants were implicated.

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Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs insists the allegations are “baseless and gravely misinformed.”

Arguably, Qatar has received some favourable reviews in Europe this year, but allegations that European officials were paid off to provide them would be hard to establish.

Senior members of the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, including Ms Kaili, have praised the labour reforms Qatar made ahead of the World Cup.

In April, the commission also began a drive to provide visa-free travel for Qataris holding biometric passports who want to come to Europe for short stays, although the parliament has shelved its role in that process in light of the investigation.

In addition, Politico has reported European parliamentarians are looking into claims Qatar unduly influenced an air transport agreement granting Qatar Airways unlimited access to the EU market.

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