Ethics after Qatargate

EU SCREAM – Alberto Alemanno explains how the European Parliament is reeling from corruption allegations involving the Gulf state of Qatar.

The European Parliament is reeling from corruption allegations involving the Gulf state of Qatar. Members’ offices have been sealed. Raids have been carried out by Italian and Belgian authorities. And large sums of cash seized including sacks of banknotes from the father of one of the lawmakers at the centre of the scandal. That lawmaker, Eva Kaili, was with the Greek socialist Pasok party. She was a vice president of the European Parliament — and she’d been strongly promoting Qatar. Kaili has now been stripped of her title and is in custody. Of course it’s far from the first corruption scandal in the EU. But in this case there’s the promise of further lurid revelations of cash-fuelled influence peddling on a much bigger scale than previously thought. And now the race is on to apportion blame.

Some lawmakers suggest malign foreign interference is mainly responsible. Others say non-governmental organisations and campaign groups should be in the crosshairs. Still others stress that there will always be bad apples and so there should be no need for collective guilt in a Parliament with 705 members. But such finger-pointing mostly amounts to denial and deflection. That’s because the dumpster fire at the European Parliament may be largely of the EU’s own making. Foreign governments still can meet lawmakers largely undetected, and there’s still no central independent investigator and no system for anonymous whistle-blowers. It’s what Transparency International calls a complete lack of independent ethics oversight. And while the EU has many gifted politicians and policymakers who are above reproach — still too many are low grade national party hacks and worse. One of the leading voices on making the E.U. more accountable and transparent is Alberto Alemanno.

Alberto is Jean Monnet Professor in European Union Law at HEC Paris, and he sits on the board of several civil society organisations. He’s also a good sport for taking a scooter through downtown Brussels, in the dark, on an icy evening, to come talk about, yes, “Qatargate”.

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