Is the integrity of the EU compromised?

The world has been taken aback by revelation of a scandal in the European Parliament (EP) which involves illicit lobbying activities by Qatar. Sabotage of the EP, an important diplomatic body known for applying pressure to hostile regimes or those that engage in human rights abuses or anti-democratic behaviour, threatens to blow up into a major crisis at the heart of the European Union.

On December 09, 2022, Belgian police in coordination with Europol searched 16 homes and detained at least four people in and around Brussels as part of an inquiry into what prosecutors called “criminal organization, corruption and money laundering”. Over €600,000 worth of cash in denominations of €100 €200 and even €500 notes was also seized. The arrests follow a six month investigation into widespread corruption and lobbying at the heart of the European Parliament.

Among those detained are European Parliament vice-president Eva Kaili. Kaili, one of 14 Vice Presidents of the European Parliament, is accused of using her power and influence to publicly endorse Qatar’s role as a ‘frontrunner in labour rights’ despite deep international concerns about conditions for stadium construction workers. Her constant appreciation of the positive and path-making transformation that the Football World Cup had brought to Qatar and her contradictory comments in the European Parliament against various resolutions condemning the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar raised eyebrows.

Earlier this year, Qatar, through its influence on Kaili, got the visit of a delegation of EU politicians cancelled. Instead, they made Kaili travel alone to Qatar and provide a favourable assessment on workers’ rights and other such issues with regard to construction of stadiums for football world cup. Now, with the revelation of this scandal, questions must be asked whether the bid in 2010 to host football world cup 2022, that was awarded to Qatar, was above board.

Francesco Giorgi, Kaili’s partner and an advisor to the European Parliament on issues relating to the Qatar and Morocco, was also detained. His NGO, Fight Impunity is at the centre of police scrutiny. The NGO, which worked for human rights violations and crimes against humanity, is being accused of providing Qatar with a vehicle into the European Parliament. Another NGO that has also been implicated alongside Fight Impunity is No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), whose director general Niccolo Figa-Talamanca, has been detained.

It is concerning that both organisations were able to be bought off so easily by a state that ultimately violated the values that these NGOs stood for. There is also a possibility that both these NGOs were in fact set up under the guise of promoting human rights and democracy, but with the intention of allowing hostile regimes to covertly penetrate Western institutions, such as the EU. It is highly unlikely that Qatar is the only nation to engage in such activities. Other nations, more used to conducting this kind of operation, such as China, may well be influencing the EU without being detected.

Another act of interference that is being discussed now is how Qatar could get the EU to pass the proposal of granting visa-free travel to Qatari citizens. Though the EU had initially passed the resolution, the success for Qatar was short-lived. Belgian MEP Erik Marquardt, in charge of this proposal, has since stated that he was lobbied extensively by Qatari representatives in recent months, with some offering him travel to the World Cup. The Belgian MEP turned down all such offers and has asked for the proposal to return to the committee because of this scandal coming to light.   

As the situation unfolds, it will be interesting to watch whether EU will take a strong stand against Qatar or try to cover up the scandal under the pressure of Qatar being a major gas provider to European countries. This is probably the most shocking integrity scandal in the history of the EU. It has dented the legitimacy of the EU that was looked up to as a champion of human rights and voice against criminality. Now, onlookers are seeing EU as an organization that can be bought off to pass laws in favour of undemocratic regimes that do not share the values of the EU.