The European Parliament has moved to forbid MEPs from lobbying legislators for a six-month period after leaving office, as the bloc continues to reel from a significant alleged corruption scandal revealed late last year.
The new policy introduces, among other things, a “cooling-off period” for former MEPs preventing them from seeking to influence lawmakers on key political issues.
Political lobbying is known to be a huge industry within the European Union, with the Economist in 2021 dubbing Brussels the world’s “second capital” regarding the practice, surpassed only by Washington DC in the United States.
Europeans assume that lobbying is an American problem. Think again https://t.co/oyjONJ97d1
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) May 14, 2021
“During this period, former Members shall not engage in lobbying or representational activities with the European Parliament,” the parliament said in a statement.
“After this period, if former Members decide to engage in lobbying or representational activities with the European Parliament, they will have to register in the Transparency Register. Consequently, they will not be entitled to the access rights and facilities provided to them as former members.”
The statement added that the new policy was merely a “first set of reforms” aimed at “strengthening the Parliament’s integrity, independence and accountability, while protecting the free mandate of Members.” It also seeks to increase “transparency” of the European institutions.
The decision comes in the aftermath of an enormous alleged corruption probe, in which Vice President of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili, was arrested in Belgium last December. She was accused of taking bribes from Qatar in exchange for giving the gulf state political influence within the EU – a scandal since dubbed “Qatargate.”
“This is about the credibility of Europe”: European Parliament vice-president arrested on corruption charges and suspicion of bribery.#gripthttps://t.co/BZnfSWtLUn
— gript (@griptmedia) December 12, 2022
Kaili – a Greek Socialist MEP – was subsequently suspended from her role within the Parliament, suspended by her party, and had her assets frozen by Greek authorities. She had been locked up in jail pending trial since December, but last week was released on house arrest with an electronic monitoring tag to ensure she does not attempt to flee the country.
Four others were also arrested at the time on charges of “participation in a criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption.” These include Kaili’s partner, Francesco Giorgi, an NGO worker, and several other current and former EU politicians, including former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri.
In January, Panzeri agreed to a plea deal which will require him to inform authorities of the details of how the alleged money laundering operation conducted its business, and the identities of those involved.
The lawyer of a former MEP from Italy says that his client is willing to “tell all” and admit “criminal responsibility” amid an ongoing Belgian police probe into alleged corruption between EU officials and the state of Qatar.#gripthttps://t.co/wlxjD3tscJ
— gript (@griptmedia) January 19, 2023
In return the former-MEP will reportedly face only a year in jail, in contrast to the “much heavier prison sentence” he may have otherwise faced. He will also have as much as €1m in assets confiscated and may pay a fine.
Last December, at the time of the initial arrests, Belgian authorities reported that cash worth around €600,000 was found at the home of one suspect, and a further €750,000 was found in a suitcase in a hotel room in Brussels.
€1.5 million euro has been seized in two homes and a briefcase full of cash amid an ongoing alleged EU corruption scandal involving top-ranking MEPs.#gripthttps://t.co/CEFc4z78ru
— gript (@griptmedia) December 14, 2022
€150,000 was reportedly found at Kaili’s apartment, and a further €150,000 was found in a suitcase her father was carrying at a Brussels hotel room.
In the aftermath to the arrests, a proposed European Parliament vote to allow visa-free travel to the EU from Qatar was postponed, leading Qatar to say that this may harm vital energy deals between the bloc and the gulf nation.
Qatar: EU corruption accusations could harm vital energy deals#gripthttps://t.co/5WVFoDqN5d
— gript (@griptmedia) December 21, 2022