Qatar-gate follow-up: Which transparency reforms are being blocked and where progress is being made
In the first weeks after the Qatargarte corruption scandal came to light, numerous transparency reforms were promised, but today – seven months later – many of these are stuck in various processes. It is already becoming apparent that important anti-corruption and prevention measures are being implemented only half-heartedly. This week has seen crucial developments, particularly in the protection of whistleblowers and the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure. An overview of the most important developments from the (special) committees, the Bureau, and the negotiations with the European Commission.
Effective & independent monitoring body for lobbying rules: Is the European Parliament united before negotiations with the EU-Commission?
On Wednesday (July 12), the European Parliament criticised the Commission’s proposal for an EU ethics body as completely inadequate and defined a first line for negotiations. I was the lead negotiator on the resolution, which was successful with 365 votes in favour, 270 against, and 20 abstentions. Parliament affirms: There is a need not only for a round of talks between the institutions on how the rules could be better and more uniform, but also for an independent control for the enforcement of the rules in concrete suspicious cases. Final text: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2023-0281_EN.pdf
It will not be until September, probably Thursday 7, that the leaders of the political groups decide who will lead the negotiations for the Parliament with the other EU institutions. President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola had proposed a three-person team of Daniel Freund (German Greens) as rapporteur, Katarina Barley (German Social Democrat) as EP Vice-President for Transparency and Salvatore de Meo (Italian Christian Democrat) as Chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO).
Protecting whistleblowers in the European Parliament: Hardly any positive changes planned
In order to uncover corruption, it often takes courageous whistleblowers to report wrongdoings. So far, the rules in parliament are particularly bad: anonymous reports are forbidden and lead neither to protection nor to investigations. This is worse than foreseen in the EU whistleblower protection law. The 14-point reform plan of President Metsola and the parliamentary group leaders had promised to apply the standards of the EU legislation in the Parliament as well.
A first draft of new EP rules has now been discussed in the Parliament’s Bureau. However, the proposal still contradicts the EU legislation: furthermore, staff members are not allowed to report anonymously. So far, only two out of 14 Vice-Presidents* criticised the weaknesses. After a consultation of the EP staff representation, the decision should be made in the next Bureau meeting on September 11. If this direction does not change any more, there is a threat that the Parliament will completely miss its self-imposed claim and give itself weaker rules than those that already apply in every administration and company in Europe today.
“Special committee” on Qatargate delivers final report: little clarification but two important demands
Today (July 13) the final report was adopted. It remained one-sidedly focused on influence by third countries.The opportunity to work through the Qatargate corruption scandal in the special committee was unfortunately completely missed. We still have no answer to the question of whether and which parliamentary decisions were actually influenced by Qatar corruption. No document was requested and none of the responsible persons were invited or questioned.
The report contains almost nothing new beyond the previously adopted 14-point reform plan. Helpfully, it affirms that MEPs should disclose their assets at the beginning and end of their mandate. It also called for a ban on MEPs holding side jobs for persons or organisations in the Transparency Register. The report also calls for oversight of former MEPs by a new EU ethics body even beyond the cooling-off period (currently six months).
Better rules for MEP integrity: What’s in the draft new rules?
Half of the 14 points of Metsolas reform plan need to be implemented in Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, here mainly in the Code of Conduct. A non-transparent “Working Group on Rules of Procedure” has been negotiating this for months. The result has been public for a few days: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/RC-9-2023-0312_EN.pdf.
Some but not all of the 14 points promised have been included:
- Extension of the obligation to publish lobby meetings to all MEPs, limited no longer only to rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs, but all with an active role e.g. by tabling amendments, speaking in plenary or committee (which Eva Kaili did), emails to other MEPs, and role as coordinator. Also the publication of a list of lobby meetings per dossier, a legislative footprint, becomes mandatory.
- Somewhat more detailed information on side income: side income above EUR 5000 per year must be declared in euros and cents. Members of Parliament who earn hundreds or thousands of euros as “consultants”, “freelancers” or “lawyers” still do not have to declare their clients, although this was temporarily included in the drafts.
- Declarations of interest by rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs, vice-presidents and committee and delegation chairs will become mandatory.
- Inter-party friendship groups for third countries will not be allowed to use parliamentary resources, but will not be banned. Friendship groups for which there is no official EP delegation are excluded.
- Expansion of penalties: possible penalties are increased from 30 to 60 days’ fines, i.e. up to 20,000 euros. Sanctions also become possible if lobby meetings are not properly published or informal friendship groups mislead the public.
- The Advisory Committee (EP Ethics Body) is somewhat strengthened, but gets no real right of initiative and no independent experts. The five MEPs appointed by the EP President are to proactively monitor compliance and report problems to the President, but remain dependent on her mandate. Sanctions may be recommended, but the decision remains in the hands of the President without the recommendation becoming public. These additional strengths were already in drafts and could be added by amendment in committee.
What is completely missing:
- Disclosure of Members’ assets at the beginning and end of the legislative term is missing from the draft, although the plenary had called for this in February and now reiterated it in the special committee report.
- The ban on paid lobbying is not concretized as a ban on paid work for organisations in the lobby register, although the House had called for this in February and reaffirmed it in the special committee.
Amendments can be submitted before the summer recess, until July 20. The vote in committee and in plenary is scheduled for September.