World news

After Qatargate, the European Parliament reviews its immunity against corruption

One made a trip to Qatar paid for by the emirate, but failed to mention it in his diary. The other sees his name appear in the vast investigation for corruption which strikes the European Parliament, more for his presumed links with Morocco.

The lifting of the parliamentary immunity of the Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella and his Italian colleague Andrea Cozzolino was on the agenda, this Monday January 16, in a European hemicycle which resumes its work in plenary until January 19.

The procedure, which has several stages, is formalized, ahead of a vote expected in mid-February. “Our assembly embodies European parliamentary democracy, I will ensure that its foundations are strengthened”declared at the opening of the session the president of the institution, the Maltese Roberta Metsola.

The immunity in question

Unlike the vice-president of the European parliament Éva Kaïlí and her assistant, or the former MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri, the two elected socialists were not placed under lock and key. The amounts of cash searched in this case were not found at their home.

Without evidence against them, they will remain in office, and their elected status protects them from possible prosecution. But parliamentary immunity, designed to allow MEPs to freely exercise their mandate without exposing themselves to arbitrary or political attacks, must remain a guarantee of independence and integrity.

Several cumulative elements invite the investigators to take an interest in Marc Tarabella, even if no charge is brought against him. First of all, his well-known closeness to Pier-Antonio Panzeri, presented by investigators as the presumed mastermind of the corruption network. Then the fact that he failed to declare a trip paid for by Qatar in February 2020, despite his obligation. Finally, his positions, on the sidelines of the World Cup, on the occasion of which he denounced a “Qatar bashing” that he judged “ridiculous and hypocritical”.

Discreet trips

Another elected, Belgian socialist Marie Arena also admitted not having declared a mission to Qatar in May 2022, paid for by the emirate, blaming the“forgetting” to its secretariat and referring “a fairly complicated document to fill out”. The latter resigned in the wake of her presidency of the Human Rights sub-committee of the European Parliament, a position previously held by a certain Pier-Antonio Panzeri.

Andrea Cozzolino, also close to Panzeri, has already been suspended from his duties as president of the Maghreb delegation to the European parliament. He resigned from the special parliamentary committee on the Pegasus program and from the Morocco-EU joint parliamentary committee. The Italian elected official had Francesco Giorgi as parliamentary assistant, who admitted having received money from Qatar and Morocco. Andrea Cozzolino, who claims his innocence, says he is ready to answer questions from the Legal Affairs Commission.

Restore trust

The European Parliament is under pressure, 18 months from the next European elections, in June 2024. “The events of the past month have demonstrated the need to rebuild the bonds of trust with the European citizens we represent, insists Roberta Metsola, in office for just a year at the head of the institution. We will take steps to strengthen the fight against corruption and the means to fight against foreign interference”.

In conjunction with the leaders of political groups, the Maltese has concocted an arsenal of 14 emergency measures, pending longer-term provisions. One of them, which concerns the future of MEPs once their mandate is completed, promises bitter debates on the “pantouflage”. Former MPs would be required to serve a waiting period before they could be hired as lobbyists with Parliament. They would no longer have permanent passes for the institution, and would no longer be able to authorize entry to others.

As for elected officials still in office, they would be subject to regular checks on their links abroad outside the EU. MEPs would also be obliged to publish all meetings related directly or indirectly to the Parliament’s agenda, and to declare each trip abroad.


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