EU Parliament: Corrupt Social Democrats – Politics
There are two ways to look at the corruption scandal currently sweeping the European Union Parliament. From above. And from below.
Roberta Metsola deals with the disaster from above. The 43-year-old Maltese is the President of the European Parliament, and there is no one higher in the hierarchy of the House. The office also entails an office on the ninth floor of a building in Brussels, which offers a wonderful view over Europe’s capital.
At the moment, however, Metsola mainly sees problems. “I haven’t slept much in the past month since the scandal erupted,” she says. “All the trust that we have built in 20 years of work was destroyed in a few days.”
From below, Moritz Körner looks at the scandal that has become known in Brussels as “Qatargate” – a mixture of the name of the Arab country from which a particularly large amount of money is said to have flowed to MEPs and the Washington building complex in which the Watergate scandal began.
“But you also have…”
Körner is 32 and sits in the European Parliament for the FDP. He is a normal MEP, one of 705 who make politics in Brussels and Strasbourg. He didn’t get any money from Qatar. Nevertheless, he now has to listen to stupid sayings, he says. “People call and ask: Well, did you just take away the bags of money? And when I post something on Facebook about corruption, the comments come immediately: But you also have…” Körner doesn’t think that’s fair.
It’s been a good month since the Belgian police started investigating the corruption scandal in the European Parliament. Several people were arrested, among them a vice-president of the parliament, the Greek Eva Kailiand a former MEP.
In addition, investigations are being carried out into at least two incumbent MEPs, whose immunity Parliament is expected to lift in the coming weeks, as well as half a dozen parliamentary staff. The details are adventurous – it’s about suitcases full of cash, millions of euros from Qatar and Morocco that were allegedly distributed to parliamentarians to influence their work.
Give and take
However, the suspects not only have in common that they all had to do with the EU Parliament. Another parenthesis is that the MEPs involved in the scandal so far all come from the same group: the European Social Democrats, or S&D for short.
And that in turn means that a question is now being asked in the EU Parliament: Who is this scandal actually affecting – the whole Parliament or just one group? “In the beginning we were all in shock and asked ourselves what was to come,” says Körner. “But now, after a month, one should probably address the fact that it’s only the Social Democrats.”
MEP Daniel Freund from the Greens takes a similar view. Corruption is always a matter of give and take, he says. And only S&D parliamentarians were exposed as takers – at least according to the current status of investigations. It is of course not right to lash out and claim that all Social Democrats are corrupt, says Freund. “But there is a collective responsibility of a faction to take a closer look when members are doing strange things.”
“That was funny”
However, the S&D group seems to struggle with such collective responsibility. It was well known, for example, that Eva Kaili, whose meteoric rise in career was promoted by S&D parliamentary group leader Iratxe García Pérez, spoke remarkably friendly about Qatar for a European social democrat. Likewise, that she voted on a decision on visa-free travel for Qatari citizens in a committee of which she was not a member. That was funny, remembers Körner, who was also at the meeting.
And even today there is not much sense of guilt among the European social democrats. Kaili’s vice-presidency, which has since been ousted, is naturally being reclaimed by the S&D. “We have a right to it,” says the group. When you talk to S&D MPs about their corrupt colleagues, you hear mostly evasions. “They could all have been Catholics,” says one member of parliament. “I only knew her from saying hello in the group.” And anyway: it is completely implausible that Qatar has only approached one parliamentary group.
However, it is one of the peculiarities of European parliamentarianism that the members of parliament generally avoid overly harsh party-political attacks. The conservative European People’s Party (EPP), to which the German Union parties belong, made a half-hearted attempt to attack the S&D group shortly after Kaili’s arrest. After a few sharp tweets, however, the conservatives swung back to the line that Parliament President Metsola had issued: This is an attack on the entire EU Parliament, on Europe’s democracy.
Metsola is itself a member of the EPP Group. She’s a charismatic, energetic politician – if she wanted to, she could stoke up the heat of the Social Democrats. It may therefore seem strange that it goes easy on political opponents. In fact, the S&D group benefits when the public sees the corruption scandal as a problem for the whole of Parliament, not as a problem for the Social Democrats.
But Metsola is most interested in protecting the institution it runs. “It is my responsibility to ensure that this Parliament can be proud of its integrity,” she says. She also wants to keep Parliament able to work. And that is only possible if there is a majority of conservatives and social democrats. It’s always easy to point fingers at other parties, says Metsola. She rejects that.
Metsola is therefore now working on tightening the rules intended to prevent corruption in the EU Parliament. In the future, MEPs will have to explain in much more detail who they meet when and for what purpose, from whom they receive gifts and who invites them to travel. Apparently, this has been seen rather casually so far: A few days ago, S&D MP Maria Arena resigned from her position as chair of the parliament’s human rights committee because she could not afford a trip paid for by Qatar – including a business-class flight and a five-star hotel had declared.
Metsola is also keeping an eye on the European elections in spring 2024. “We will then ask the citizens to put their trust in us,” she says. The FDP MP Moritz Körner, on the other hand, draws a different conclusion from the Qatargate scandal. If you don’t clearly state the political responsibility for mistakes, the voters get the impression that they can’t change anything with their vote, he says. That doesn’t help Europe’s democracy.