Qatar-Gate: Majority for asset declarations, loopholes remain
Today, the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) voted on the reform of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament. These rules regulate the behaviour of MEPs and are thus one of the central places for preventing corruption and avoiding influence on European politics. In the vote, there was a majority for more transparency in lobby meetings and for the disclosure of MEPs’ assets. I had proposed asset declarations in the weeks after the Qatar-Gate scandal and collected signatures for the amendment. Now, the committee adopted exactly this. However, other effective measures to avoid conflicts of interest have been rejected. The vote was on half of President Roberta Metsola’s (EPP) 14-point reform pledge. The report received 15 votes from (S&D, Renew, Greens, Left). Christian Democrats, as well as the far-right groups ECR and ID voted against (10 no, 1 abstention).
Daniel Freund, for the Greens in the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs, comments:
“These reforms will improve lobby transparency in Brussels. The obligation to publish lobby meetings will be extended. Influence from third countries finally has to become transparent. A major Green and personal success is the introduction of asset declarations by MEPs. In the future, if MPs gain assets in the course of their mandate, this would have to be reported to parliament. For this I had introduced a proposal, collected signatures and now we won the majority.”
“The fact that the Christian Democrats (EPP) voted together with the far-right groups today, against the entire report, sends the completely wrong signal to the voters. We as a parliament must make it clear through consistent reforms that we can win the trust of the voters after Qatar-Gate.”
“Better rules alone do not create lobby transparency. They also must be monitored and enforced. The lack of an independent control body has contributed significantly to the emergence of the Qatar-Gate complex. The EU institutions must improve this situation as quickly as possible and finally set up an independent monitoring body. If the new rules are not monitored and enforced, they will be worthless.”
The most important points at a glance:
Achievement I: More lobby transparency: Until now, only MEPs who directly participated in EU legislation (as rapporteurs, shadows or committee chairs) were obliged to disclose their meetings with lobbyists. This rule is now extended to all MEPs and all meetings concerning parliamentary business. Meetings with representatives of third countries (such as Qatar) and meetings by MEPs’ staff are now also included.
Achievement II: Asset declarations: Until now, MEPs have only been obliged to declare their additional income. Now all MEPs are also obliged to disclose their assets. An increase in assets beyond the declared income can help uncover corruption, which makes the use of bribes much more difficult. This success of a Green amendment is the biggest addition to the 14 points.
Achievement III: More possible sanctions: Until now, it was not possible to sanction MPs for undeclared lobby meetings. Now, the Advisory Committee can also recommend and the President can impose sanctions for undeclared meetings and undeclared financial support to informal groupings such as “friendship groups” of MEPs for dubious third countries.
No hard ban on lobby side jobs, no clients mentioned: The current rules prohibit paid lobbying as a side job for MEPs, but many MEPs state that they work as consultants for unnamed clients and have no problems. A Green amendment to extend the ban to all paid work for organisations or individuals who also lobby was defeated. An amendment to clarify that the clients for whom MEPs work must be named was also rejected, making it almost impossible to judge whether a secondary job leads to a conflict of interest. Eva Kaili could have easily received the suspected payments under the previously weak rules without having to declare the source of the money.
New external experts, but no teeth for the Advisory Committee: In addition to the current 5 MEPs who assess suspected breaches of the rules in the Advisory Committee, 3 additional independent experts are now to be appointed by the President. However, the experts will be handpicked by the President and not elected by the plenary like the EU Ombudsman. All attempts by the Greens to make the recommendations as public as those of the Ethics Committee or to set a deadline for the often delayed decisions were rejected.
14 point reform plan by Roberta Metsola and the caucus leaders:
These reforms will improve lobby transparency in Brussels. The obligation to publish lobby meetings will be extended. Influence from third countries finally has to become transparent. A major Green and personal success is the introduction of asset declarations by MEPs.