The Qatargate scandal in the EU Parliament came down hard last week on the chambers’ president, Roberta Metsola.
On January 19th, Metsola participated in a forum hosted by the news outlet Politico in Davos, Switzerland, as a sideline event to the World Economic Forum. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was also on the panel, and couldn’t resist referring to the breaking corruption scandal, hinting at EU hypocrisy.
“Roberta, sorry, I have to say it, when this corruption case got out. I said: Karma is a [expletive],” he told her.
Albania has long been trying to join the EU. But some see it as a soft dictatorship; indeed, Rama’s government has proposed a fiscal amnesty law that would allow Albania to become a depository for illegal money. Albanian mafias operate throughout Europe, as well.
Still, Rama contends that the EU has far stricter requirements for countries seeking entry into the bloc now than it did when the first members joined:
More than half of the EU countries would not be able to enter the EU anymore. I am not talking about the former communists. I’m talking also about founders, believe me.
Rama’s accusations followed on the heels of revelations about Metsola’s own undisclosed gifts.
Metsola has received some 125 gifts, ranging from cookies to hotel stays, during her term as president of the parliament, Politico recently reported. The Maltese politician took over the presidency of parliament in January 2022, but the gifts only came to light when she declared them in mid-January following the Qatargate scandal, in which several MEPs are suspected of taking bribes from Qatar to whitewash its human rights record.
Politico reports that besides small tokens, such as chocolates or a bottle of champagne, the presents included many more personal and significant items, such as a gold model tower from a senior Moroccan politician; a white dress with golden embroidery from the speaker in the parliament of Bahrain; a scarf from French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne; Sennheiser wireless earphones from the German Bundestag; a vase from the Czech presidency of the EU Council; a white blouse from Moldova’s President Maia Sandu; and a weekend of wining and dining in France with an elite wine club.
The EU parliament’s code of conduct requires MEPs to disclose any gifts received by the end of the month following the one in which the gifts were received.
Metsola’s spokesperson told Politico that it was “custom” that, as president, she was not bound by that rule. Past presidents have declared all gifts at the end of their term and only internally to the parliament’s civics committee instead of on the public register, though the president of parliament is also an MEP.
Metsola defended herself to Politico on the grounds that she had received the gifts in her capacity as president of parliament and not as an MEP, but added that she was committed to greater transparency.
At the last plenary of parliament, which ended on January 19th, MEPs debated how to address the obvious problems of corruption in the institution.
Some praised the chamber’s response to the Qatargate scandal and its resolve against corruption, while others spoke of a culture of impunity and questioned whether the institution had adequate ethics safeguards in place. Several concrete proposals were put forward, including setting up a special Qatargate committee, making disclosures on the EU transparency register fully mandatory, and establishing an independent ethics body for the EU’s institutions.
Metsola also addressed her fellow MEPs at the opening of the plenary.
“With group leaders, we have agreed on a first step approach on a number of points that can go a long way,” she said. “This is the beginning, not the end. We will start with measures that we can implement quickly while starting the process for longer-term reform.”
She offered no specifics on what points could be easily implemented.
Commissioner Ylva Johansson also told parliament that the commission would be proposing “very soon” a new law to criminalise all forms of corruption, as well as a “defence of democracy package.”