At the end of 2022, a corruption scandal erupted in the EU. Deputy President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili and several of her colleagues were detained on suspicion of illegal work for foreign states – Qatar and Morocco. Later, Marc Tarabella , an MEP from Belgium, and Andrea Cozzolino , a representative of Italy, were under investigation in the same case .
As New Europe has already written , Cathargate was by no means the first case of autocracies that have intervened in European politics. But it was this scandal that turned out to be the loudest and, it seems, finally pushed the EU to take long overdue anti-corruption measures and tighten control over the implementation of old ones. For example, under the influence of this tightening, MEPs began to declare their trips and meetings in an accelerated manner – a third of all declarations filed in the current convocation of the European Parliament were sent in the last two months.
In addition, the European Parliament strengthens internal anti-corruption control measures. The rules for deputies’ reporting will be tightened, the registration of all organizations working with the parliament will be expanded, and mandatory declaring by deputies of their assets at the beginning and end of the mandate will be introduced. In February, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the creation of an independent EU ethics body, a separate body that could monitor external influence attempts and corrupt activities in all EU institutions.
MEP from the Greens group Daniel Freund has been pushing for the establishment of this service for several years. New-Europe talked to him about how the new control body will work and whether it will help Europe fight the influence of authoritarian regimes coming both from outside and from within the European Union.
— Since your election in 2019, you have been one of the most active supporters of the creation of an independent ethics body for the entire EU. Finally, after the arrest of Eva Kylie, the EU is preparing to create such an agency. How would you rate progress in this direction?
“When the scandal erupted last December, the European Parliament made a big commitment [to tighten the fight against corruption]. It was pretty promising. The deputies have indeed shown a willingness to make a difference – to implement reforms, increase transparency, enforce the rules.
First of all, we are talking about strengthening the already existing anti-corruption procedures. For example, it is proposed to oblige deputies to register in the European “transparency register”, to prohibit them from engaging in lobbying after the end of their mandate, to change the rules for access to the parliament building, where former deputies can now get into. Codes of conduct should be revised, in particular, the work of “friendship groups” between parliament and third countries should be more strictly regulated . It is necessary to restart the work of the registry of lobbyists who work with EU institutions: in addition to mandatory registration and increased control over this, the European Parliament proposed to increase funding and staff of the service, making it a permanently functioning monitoring body.
Now, to implement all these changes, we have a majority in Parliament and the support of the European Commission. But in practice, the work is just beginning. Therefore, I hope that these commitments, enshrined in various resolutions, will turn out to be not empty promises, but a real desire for change.
– Recently, Manon Aubry, co-chair of the Left group in the European Parliament , said that by the end of February, the European Parliament had lost its enthusiasm in the fight against corruption. Of the fifteen proposals adopted at the meeting in December last year, only four showed progress. Do you agree with this opinion?
– In a sense, Aubrey is right: it’s been almost three months since the scandal, but so far little has changed. At one of the last meetings of the European Parliament, we decided to create an independent ethics service and reaffirmed all the obligations assumed in the December resolution.
However, as I said, in practice, nothing has been done so far. We need to speed up reforms. But their slow pace is due to the fact that when developing new rules, we want to be sure that we do not create new loopholes in the legislation. It takes more time and that’s okay.
— In December, members of ultra-right parties spoke most actively about corruption in the European Parliament , making harsh statements against the Social Democrats, in whose ranks Eva Kaili, who was under investigation, was a member. However , when the resolution on anti – corruption measures was adopted , the same ultra – right and conservatives who joined them abstained or voted against . Do you see an explanation for this behavior?
– This is due to the difference between attacks on a political opponent and a real desire to change something. As we have seen for many years, conservatives have been actively opposed to increasing transparency and improving anti-corruption rules and procedures. At the same time, they have significant power in parliament – the chairman of Robert Metsola, for example, is also from the European People’s Party [ the largest center-right political party in the European Parliament, holds 176 mandates out of 706. – Note. ed. ]. In the last convocation, many conservatives held leadership positions, in particular, they were involved in the development of the current transparency rules. So, we can say that they have blocked progress in the fight against corruption over the past years.
However, among the right and the centre-right there are not only those who oppose change. A certain understanding of the problem is also being formed among this group of deputies.
So, at the last plenary session , when the European Parliament confirmed its commitments to create an independent ethics service, most of the European People’s Party voted “for”. Although among those who voted “no” or abstained, the vast majority are still far-right, center-right and Euroskeptics.
There will be a fight. Many deputies, including myself, will fight for the implementation of the entire range of anti-corruption measures. But we also have opponents who will try to oppose us. We already see how conservatives put forward arguments in favor of not declaring lobbying meetings and property. Although it was on these issues that the most detailed proposals were developed.
Elections for the new European Parliament will be held in 2024. Do you think this will force incumbent MPs to be more active in anti-corruption measures in order to regain the trust of their voters?
Yes, of course, elections can help us. We have already had similar situations in the past – on the eve of the elections, the demand of voters for transparency is growing, and with it, the readiness of deputies for this is growing.
At every meeting with voters, I am approached with questions about corruption in the European Parliament and the EU as a whole. I think that similar situations in other districts force politicians to act. If conservatives get calls and letters from voters asking, “What’s going on? Why are you opposing these useful reforms?” This will make you think twice and increase the likelihood that the reforms will actually be implemented. A lot will depend on pressure from the public – the press and especially voters.
Ultimately, I think many MEPs understand that anti-corruption measures are the only way to regain the trust of a significant part of the voters, which we have lost since December. If we do not want the upcoming elections to turn into a disaster and to be won by Eurosceptics, reforms must be carried out.
One of the defendants in the Catargate corruption scandal is Mark Tarabella. Photo: Bert Van Den Broucke / Photonews / Getty Images
– Authoritarian regimes influence the EU not only from outside, but also within the EU itself – I mean the confrontation between Brussels and Budapest and Warsaw. In one of your recent speeches, you even said: “If Putin invented the European Union, he would definitely give Hungary the right to veto.” After 2022, who will prevail in this confrontation – European institutions or authoritarian regimes?
“Now it has been a year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and I think that in this situation the EU as a whole is quite unanimous: it supports Ukraine, opposes Russia, imposes sanctions and, as you know, makes great efforts to refuse Europe from Russian energy resources. The toughest opponent of the European approach to security threats all this time has been and remains [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban. He managed to weaken some of the sanctions, achieved the exclusion of several persons from the black lists. And while I think the EU as a whole has won this confrontation, we are extremely vulnerable given that all such foreign policy decisions, under current EU rules, must be made unanimously.
Orban tries again and again to blackmail Europe. The EU, in reaction to the crisis of democracy in Hungary, last year finally froze 55% of the funds earmarked for Budapest. This is a strong step, which has become a logical continuation of the pressure on Hungary that the European Parliament has been exerting over the past few years. And I am proud that we succeeded.
Source : novayagazeta.eu