EU parliament chief to unveil reforms amid graft scandal

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Strasbourg (France) (AFP) – The president of the European Parliament will on Monday formally unveil a series of reforms to clean up the multinational assembly in a bid to prevent fraud that has rocked the legislature.

But many MEPs and observers believe that the changes presented by Roberta Metzola will not be enough to restore confidence in the institution.

Parliament has been in the public eye since the arrest of one of Metzola’s 14 vice-presidents after Belgian police raided the homes and offices of several MEPs, former EU members, parliamentary aides and heads of NGOs. with legislators.

Belgian prosecutors are investigating alleged smuggling to the benefit of Qatar and Morocco in the European Parliament. Police found 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in cash.

Qatar denies any wrongdoing in the case. Morocco has been said to be the target of an unwarranted “media attack” over the allegations.

Metzola’s arrested vice-president and Greek MP Eva Kaili, who lost her high-ranking parliamentary position, also said through her lawyer that she knew nothing about the cash found in her home.

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Kylie remains in custody along with three other suspects: Kylie’s boyfriend, Francesco Giorgi, who worked as a parliamentary aide; Pier Antonio Panzeri, former MEP; and Niccolò Figa-Talamanca, the head of an NGO suspected of paying MEPs.

All three male suspects are Italian. According to Belgian media, Georgi confessed.

In Belgium, four people are accused of “criminal organization, corruption and money laundering”. Greece and Italy have launched their own investigations.

Metzola promised to act quickly to “strengthen integrity, independence and accountability” in parliament. He also said the fraud scandal was “under attack for European democracy”.

On Monday, Metzola will open the first session of the 2023 parliament in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, where he will formally announce the long-awaited measures.

These include limiting the right of former EU members to sit in parliament; register outsiders who lobby, meet and speak in parliament; Records of gifts and travel received by Members of the European Parliament; and penalties for violations.

However, legal experts and some senior members doubt these steps go far enough.

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A “more serious” answer is needed

Alberto Alemanno, professor of EU law at the French business school HEC, does not believe that “imposing these few rules will not be enough to create a new political culture in the European Parliament.”

“This scandal is more serious than any other for the credibility of the European Union,” he told AFP. “We were expecting a more serious and more structured response than we have in the past.”

Stéphane Séjourn, head of the centrist Renew group of MEPs in parliament, said the scandal showed the need for EU powers to “make public life transparent at the European level”.

Such an idea has been floated by the European Commission before, but it never took off.

Daniel Freund, a member of the Green Party of Germany, said that the assets of MEPs should be made public at the beginning and end of their term, and whistleblower protection should be increased.

Manon Aubry, co-chair of the left-wing group in the EU parliament, warned that MEPs’ demands for wider reforms were “unacceptable” after the scandal.

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Alleged corruption continues to plague the legislature.

In early January, at the request of Belgian prosecutors, the European Parliament began proceedings to lift the immunity of two other members: Belgian Marc Tarabella, whose home was raided in December; and Italy’s Andrea Cozzolino.

On Sunday, Tarabella admitted that he failed to declare an all-expense paid trip to Qatar in February 2020. His attorney said it was an oversight.

It comes shortly after another Belgian MEP, Maria Arena, admitted she “forgot” to declare a similar expenses-paid trip to Qatar in May 2022.

The scandal threatens to overshadow the plenary session of Parliament this week.

After Metsola presented the reforms, the House will vote on Wednesday to decide who will succeed Kylie as deputy speaker of parliament.

Dubbed “Cathargate” by some MEPs and the media, observers say it could cloud the next European Parliament election in 18 months.

The public reaction to the scandal is “much stronger than European leaders want to admit,” Alemanno said.

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