World news

in search of credibility, the European Parliament converts to transparency

No less than 142 gifts in one year. On 11 and 12 January, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, ended up registering even the most insignificant presents received since taking office: a sausage, chocolates, a vase, books, a scarf, headphones without fil…, but also a trip to Burgundy regulated by a French wine federation.

Late exemplarity

“No President of Parliament before me has ever taken this initiative” to disclose everything, she defended herself in the German economic newspaper Handelsblatt. However, the Maltese had omitted to point out a detail: her husband was also the guest of this stay in a five-star hotel in the city of Beaune, gourmet dinner included. Likewise, she had forgotten to declare, before the “Qatargate”, four other trips, revealed the Belgian daily The eveningincluding a three-day stay in Israel, the host country which paid for the two nights’ accommodation.

For the sake of setting an example, the filings of information have flowed in recent days, in a Parliament shaken by the vast investigation for corruption carried out by the Belgian justice, in connection with Qatar and Morocco. “The issue of transparency has become an essential standard for elected officials who come to position themselves as white knights”, comments Cécile Robert, expert in European lobbies and transparency actions at Sciences Po Lyon.

Unfortunate omissions

In principle, gifts and invitations must be reported to the office of the European Parliament within one month. the “code of conduct for MEPs” also requires elected officials to declare “events organized by third parties in which they participate, when their travel, accommodation or subsistence costs are reimbursed by a third party or paid directly by the latter”.

Among the latecomers, we find MEPs whose names come up in the Qatargate affair. This is the case of the Belgian socialists Maria Arena, forced to withdraw from the human rights sub-committee, and who had not declared a trip to Doha paid for by Qatar. And his colleague Marc Tarabella, who left for the Emirate without saying so. Others, absent from the survey, simply put themselves in order, like the Belgian Christian Democrat Tom Vandenkendelaere, who confessed “forgetting” trips to Israel or the Czech Republic.

Towards a more restrictive framework?

Current “code of conduct for MEPs” was born in 2012, in the wake of another scandal, in 2011. At the time, the British weekly Sunday Times had set up a trap during which three MEPs had accepted money in exchange for tabling amendments. “The haste of the current declarations shows how this framework was non-binding and in reality little applied. This highlights the limits of an infra-legal system that relies on self-regulation,” believes Cécile Robert.

Good practices are unequally distributed according to political groups and origins, notes the researcher. “For two terms already, the Greens have been synchronizing their Outlook online calendar to share what they are doing. In the same way, the countries of the North have more of this culture of informing about their activities,” notes the expert, for whom there are two ways of improvement. The first is to make transparency legally binding, but that would require an unlikely unanimous vote by member states. The other solution would consist in giving substantial means of control to an independent authority, like what France has done with the High Authority for the transparency of public life.


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