Non-EU lobbyists unwelcome

IF – 08/2023

The consequences of the bribery scandal of some MEPs by the Arab country Qatar has led to a Special Committee in the European Parliament on Foreign Influence on All Democratic Processes in the EU (INGE 2) set up in February. The Committee has produced a self-initiated report in recent months calling for more effective control and monitoring systems against political influence from outside the EU.

Internal reforms necessary

The Report adopted on 13 July addresses Recommendations for reforms of the European Parliament's rules on transparency and anti-corruption. The trigger was the misconduct of the former Socialist Vice-President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili (NA/GR). In her Brussels flat, Belgian anti-corruption investigators found several hundred thousand euros in December 2022, which the Emirate of Qatar allegedly used to gain political influence through Kaili. Due to her detention and behaviour, the European Parliament was subject to a credibility crisis for weeks, not only externally but also internally. Stricter controls on lobbyists from non-EU countries were debated across political groups. The DSV had reported on this 04/2023.

What should be changed?

Ahead of the upcoming European elections in June 2024, the European Parliament is trying to limit the damage. The Code of Conduct for MEPs is to be revised to curb existing loopholes in financial interests or conflicts of interest with all lobbyists. Information on the activities of MPs as well as meetings with lobbyists should be more strictly traceable. Financial penalties can be imposed for violations, which has never been the case so far. There were as many as 26 violations last year alone.

Top-down strategy

It is not only the activities of politicians that need to become more transparent. In future, all employees of MEPs and the administrative apparatus must take part in compulsory training on "suspicion of corruption and strengthening transparency". Caution is advised especially when countries such as Qatar, Morocco, China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia and Turkey approach MEPs' offices. These countries had already invested a lot in lobbying Brussels. Awareness-raising in strategic communication should therefore be improved at all levels in the European Parliament.

More transparency in the transparency register

The European Transparency Register is to be expanded and more closely monitored. The report calls for all MEPs to disclose appointments with stakeholders - including meetings with diplomatic representatives of states outside the EU. Particular attention should be paid to the registration of all those present at meetings and events within the European Parliament. German Social Insurance (DSV) is also duly registered as an interest group in the Transparency Register.

New ethics body as a miracle cure?

In February, MEPs called on the European Commission and the Council of the European Union to set up an independent Ethics Panel. The panel is also supposed to control any lobbying former MEPs. Now it is up to the European Commission to come up with a proposal. However, whether this will happen before the European elections in 2024 is currently unforeseeable. A negative issue, such as the corruptibility of MEPs, would not be particularly conducive to the Europe-wide election campaign.