The EU’s reply to Qatargate: Nips, tucks and paperwork

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STRASBOURG — The European Parliament’s response to Qatargate: Fight corruption with paperwork.

When Belgian police made sweeping arrests and recovered €1.5 million from Parliament members in a cash-for-influence probe last December, it sparked mass clamoring for a deep clean of the institution, which has long languished with lax ethics and transparency rules, and even weaker enforcement.

Seven months later, the Parliament and its president, Roberta Metsola, can certainly claim to have tightened some rules — but the results are not much to shout about. With accused MEPs Eva Kaili and Marc Tarabella back in the Parliament and even voting on ethics changes themselves, the reforms lack the political punch to take the sting out of a scandal that Euroskeptic forces have leaped on ahead of the EU election next year.

“Judge us on what we’ve done rather [than] on what we didn’t,” Metsola told journalists earlier this month, arguing that Parliament has acted swiftly where it could. 

While the Parliament can claim some limited improvements, calls for a more profound overhaul in the EU’s only directly elected institution — including more serious enforcement of existing rules — have been met with finger-pointing, blame-shifting and bureaucratic slow-walking. 

The Parliament dodged some headline-worthy proposals in the process. It declined to launch its own inquiry into what really happened, it decided not to force MEPs to declare their assets and it won’t be stripping any convicted MEPs of their gold-plated pensions.

Instead, the institution favored more minimal nips and tucks. The rule changes amount to much more bureaucracy and more potential alarm bells to spot malfeasance sooner — but little in the way of stronger enforcement of ethics rules for MEPs.

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who investigates complaints about EU administration lamented that the initial sense of urgency to adopt strict reforms had “dissipated.” After handing the EU a reputational blow, she argued, the scandal’s aftermath offered a pre-election chance, “to show that lessons have been learned and safeguards have been put in place.”

Former MEP Richard Corbett, who co-wrote the Socialists & Democrats group’s own inquiry into Qatargate and favors more aggressive reforms, admitted he isn’t sure whether Parliament will get there.  

“The Parliament is getting to grips with this gradually, muddling its way through the complex field, but it’s too early to say whether it will do what it should,” he said. 

Bags of cash

The sense of resignation that criminals will be criminals was only one of the starting points that shaped the Parliament’s response. 

“We will never be able to prevent people taking bags of cash. This is human nature. What we have to do is create a protection network,” said Raphaël Glucksmann, a French MEP who sketched out some longer-term recommendations he hopes the Parliament will take up. 


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Another is that the Belgian authorities’ painstaking judicial investigation is still ongoing, with three MEPs charged and a fourth facing imminent questioning. Much is unknown about how the alleged bribery ring really operated, or what the countries Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania really got for their bribes.

On top of that, Parliament was occasionally looking outward rather than inward for people to blame. 

Metsola’s message in the wake of the scandal was that EU democracy was “under attack” by foreign forces. The emphasis on “malign actors, linked to autocratic third countries” set the stage for the Parliament’s response to Qatargate: blame foreign interference, not an integrity deficit. 

Instead of creating a new panel to investigate how corruption might have steered Parliament’s work, Parliament repurposed an existing committee on foreign interference and misinformation to probe the matter. The result was a set of medium- and long-term recommendations that focus as much on blocking IT contractors from Russia and China as they do on holding MEPs accountable — and they remain merely recommendations. 

Metsola did also turn inward, presenting a 14-point plan in January she labeled as “first steps” of a promised ethics overhaul. The measures are a finely tailored lattice-work of technical measures that could make it harder for Qatargate to happen again, primarily by making it harder to lobby the Parliament undetected.

The central figure in Qatargate, an Italian ex-MEP called Pier Antonio Panzeri, enjoyed unfettered access to the Parliament, using it to give prominence to his human rights NGO Fight Impunity, which held events and even struck a collaboration deal with the institution. 

This 14-point package, which Metsola declared is now “done,” includes a new entry register, a six-month cooling-off period banning ex-MEPs from lobbying their colleagues, tighter rules for events, stricter scrutiny of human rights work — all tailored to ensure a future Panzeri hits a tripwire and can be spotted sooner.

Notably, however, an initial idea to ban former MEPs from lobbying for two years after leaving office — which would mirror the European Commission’s rules — instead turned into just a six-month “cooling off” period.

Internal divisions

Behind the scenes, the house remains sharply divided over just how much change is needed. Many MEPs resisted bigger changes to how they conduct their work, despite Metsola’s promise in December that there would be “no business as usual,” which she repeated in July.  

The limited ambition reflects an argument — pushed by a powerful subset of MEPs, primarily in Metsola’s large, center-right European People’s Party group — that changing that “business as usual” will only tie the hands of innocent politicians while doing little to stop the few with criminal intent. They’re bolstered by the fact that the Socialists & Democrats remain the only group touched by the scandal.

“There were voices in this house who said, ‘Do nothing, these things will always happen, things are fine as they are,’” Metsola said. Some of the changes, she said, had been “resisted for decades” before Qatargate momentum pushed them through. 

The Parliament already has some of the Continent’s highest standards for legislative bodies, said Rainer Wieland, a long-serving EPP member from Germany who sits on the several key rule-making committees: “I don’t think anyone can hold a candle to us.”

MEP Rainer Wieland holds lots of sway over the reforms | Patrick Seeger/EFE via EPA

Those who are still complaining, he added in a debate last week, “are living in wonderland.”

Wieland holds lots of sway over the reforms. He chairs an internal working group on the Parliament’s rules that feeds into the Parliament’s powerful Committee on Constitutional Affairs, where Metsola’s 14-point plan will be translated into cold, hard rules. 

Those rule changes are expected to be adopted by the full Parliament in September. 

The measures will boost existing transparency rules significantly. The lead MEP on a legislative file will soon have to declare (and deal with) potential conflicts of interest, including those coming from their “emotional life.” And more MEPs will have to publish their meetings related to parliamentary business, including those with representatives from outside the EU. 

Members will also have to disclose outside income over €5,000 — with additional details about the sector if they work in something like law or consulting. 

Negotiators also agreed to double potential penalties for breaches: MEPs can lose their daily allowance and be barred from most parliamentary work for up to 60 days. 

Yet the Parliament’s track record punishing MEPs who break the rules is virtually nonexistent.

As it stands, an internal advisory committee can recommend a punishment, but it’s up to the president to impose it. Of 26 breaches of transparency rules identified over the years, not one MEP has been punished. (Metsola has imposed penalties for things like harassment and hate speech.) 

And hopes for an outside integrity cop to help with enforcement were dashed when a long-delayed Commission proposal for an EU-wide independent ethics body was scaled back. 

Stymied by legal constraints and left-right divides within the Parliament, the Commission opted for suggesting a standards-setting panel that, at best, would pressure institutions into better policing their own rules.

“I really hate listening to some, especially members of the European Parliament, who say that ‘Without having the ethics body, we cannot behave ethical[ly],’” Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová lamented in June.

Metsola, for her part, has pledged to adhere to the advisory committee’s recommendations going forward. But MEPs from across the political spectrum flagged the president’s complete discretion to mete out punishments as unsustainable.

“The problem was not (and never really was) [so] much the details of the rules!!! But the enforcement,” French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield — who sits in the working group — wrote to POLITICO.

Wieland, the German EPP member on the rule-making committees, presented the situation more matter-of-factly: Parliament had done what it said it would do.

“We fully delivered” on Metsola’s plan, Wieland told POLITICO in an interview. “Not more than that.”

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The EU greenwashed fossil gas. Today, we are suing.

Last July, EU policymakers decided to greenwash fossil gas. Today, the WWF European Policy Office, Client Earth, BUND and Transport & Environment are taking them to the European Court of Justice.

We are doing it to reassert a basic truth: all fossil fuels are dangerous for the planet. Only last summer, European cities baked under fierce heatwaves, rivers across our continent ran dry, and whole swathes of France, Spain, and Portugal were burned by unprecedented wildfires. In the midst of this devastation, the EU approved a new chapter of its supposed green investment guidebook — the EU Taxonomy — which stated that fossil gas-fired electricity is ‘green’. In fact, fossil gas is a fossil fuel that can cause plumes of methane that harm the climate just as badly as coal.

However, under the guise of climate action, the gas Taxonomy could divert tens of billions of euros from green projects into the very fossil fuels which are causing those heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires. This is while scientific experts at the International Energy Agency and the United Nations continue to stress that we must halt any expansion of fossil fuels and invest exclusively in developing clean energy sources. Even the EU’s own experts have said we must use much less gas by 2030. The gas Taxonomy is not just at odds with the science: it also flies in the face of market dynamics. Renewable investments across the world reached $500 billion last year, which shows that there is already a massive, readily available alternative to gas-fired power.

For all these reasons, having previously filed a request for the Commission to review the gas Taxonomy, we are filing a case at the CJEU today. We will argue that the gas Taxonomy, and the Commission’s refusal to review it, clash with the European Climate Law, the precautionary principle, and the Taxonomy Regulation — the law on which the Taxonomy is built. It also undermines the EU’s obligations under the Paris Agreement. We expect a judgment within the next two years.

Fossil gas at the heart of two European crises

Europe faces two interlocking crises: an inflation crisis and a climate crisis. Fossil gas is at the heart of both. Had we decided to invest with more determination in renewables and energy efficiency even just 10 years ago, our continent would not have been so dependent on energy imports. We would not have faced such great spikes in energy and food prices, which disproportionately hurt our poorest citizens. We would be closer to meeting our Paris Agreement goals.

Instead,  largely due to decades of industry pressure — the gas lobby spends up to €78 million a year in Brussels alone — our continent has remained extremely dependent on destructive fossil fuels. That dependency must end. It is high time to direct billions of euros into installing more renewables more quickly, with a focus on secure, cheap wind and solar power. It is time to expand the technologies to back them up, such as building insulation, energy storage, and strong grids. And above all, it is time to stop the lie that putting money into any fossil fuel will help the green transition. That is the purpose of our legal case.

Policymakers and financial institutions beware

EU policymakers are increasingly inserting references to the EU Taxonomy into other policies. If our case is successful, and the Taxonomy’s gas criteria are overturned, any legislation tying gas financing to the Taxonomy would become inapplicable.

Policymakers beware: the Taxonomy is on shaky ground, and you should not use it to justify new gas investments. Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off. They may even incur steep losses if they have made investments based on EU policies only to find that gas has been struck out of them.

Fossil fuel companies that get hooked on green funding will face a rude awakening if our legal case cuts that support off.

Financial institutions also face real reputational, financial and legal risks from the gas Taxonomy. Fossil gas is excluded from the global green bond market. Leading institutions such as the European Investment Bank or the Dutch pension federation have openly criticized the Taxonomy’s greenwashing. What is more, taxonomies in several other countries exclude fossil gas-fired power, so the European one lags behind. Any financial institution that uses the EU Taxonomy to justify investing in fossil gas assets therefore risks direct, robust and repeated attacks on its reputation.

The inexorable public policy shift towards energy efficiency and renewables, and the plummeting price of wind and solar power, have made fossil gas-fired power uncompetitive. Investments in more fossil gas, even if encouraged by the EU Taxonomy, would quickly result in stranded assets and could even cause billion-euro losses. Financial institutions must guard against these risks by stopping their support for gas expansion now.

Finally, if our case is successful, financial institutions could find they have purchased or sold products mislabeled as ‘green’. They must be careful to verify the legal consequences of such an event, particularly for its impact on any climate claims they have made.

Our message to the EU

Policymakers and financial institutions should note that the Taxonomy faces four further court cases: one from the governments of Austria and Luxembourg, one from Greenpeace, one from the Trinational Association for Nuclear Protection (ATPN) and another from MEP René Repasi. The EU’s greenwashing is now being discredited from all sides – amongst scientists, in financial markets, and soon, we expect, by the judiciary.

Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

Victor Hugo once said that nobody can stop an idea whose time has come. Today, despite much fossil fuel lobbying, denial and delay, it is the turn of the green transition. Our message to the EU is simple: do not help fossil lobbyists to block our continent’s move to clean, cheap and secure energy. If you do, we will meet you head-on.

See you in court.

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Here Is Our Registration To Blog In Florida, Mister Knucklef*ck Sh*thead State Senator, Sir

Dear state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Florida):

We are writing to inform you that we are writing about you, an elected member of the Florida Legislature, and your very interesting and facially unconstitutional bill, Florida SB 1316, which would require paid bloggers to register with the State of Florida, just like lobbyists would — at least if the blogger is paid for the posts they write. We would first off like to thank you for exempting newspapers and amateur bloggers from the legislation. That is right neighborly of you! Florida really is all about freedom, isn’t it? Unless you’re a wokey, and we all know about those wokies and their mobs.

We won’t go into the details of the bill too much, since its instructions are so clear and easy to follow: If someone is paid to write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, the lieutenant governor, any member of the cabinet, or any member of the Lege, then that blogger must register with the State Bloggerlobbyists Office within five days of publication, and then also submit monthly reports to the appropriate office by the 10th of each month, unless “the 10th day following the end of a calendar month occurs on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday,” in which case “the report must be filed on the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.” Easy peasy!

You really thought that through! You don’t mention whether the bloggers must be resident to the great state of Florida, one of those oversights that can happen when a bunch of fucking idiots get elected to make “laws.” We’ll assume that it applies to everyone everywhere in the known universe, since you didn’t say it ain’t.

The monthly reports must itemize each post that mentions any of said Florida officials, and must include a statement — rounded to the nearest 10 dollars — of how much the blogger was paid. And heck, if we go a month without mentioning any of Florida’s colorful elected officials, we can even skip filing for that month. Again, very generous!

It’s also very convenient of you to identify the appropriate offices where the reports must be filed, depending on whether we write about a member of the executive branch (the Florida Commission on Ethics) or the legislature (the Florida Office of Legislative Services). If we mention both — like this very piece, which mentions both the increasingly fascist Ron DeSantis and his increasingly fascist lickspittles in the Legislature like you, I assume we can simply file two copies of the same report. Or would they have to be separately written, to avoid confusion?

Also, it doesn’t appear that your bill explains how we should report our income if we’re on salary, rather than paid by the blog post. I write about national and international politics, as well as about education, entertainment, edutainment, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (both the show itself and the fandom). Would I just try to figure out how my annual income breaks down per post, or should I calculate it by the time I spend writing each post?

Like, it took me forever to round up all the shitty things red states like Florida are doing to trans people (although I didn’t mention Mr. DeSantis today), but I’m basically dashing this piece off while giving it the effort your stupid bill deserves, which is only slightly more than that involved in the average dump, and not even one of those messy ones where it takes forever to wipe, because for one reason or another it’s just kind of viscous. I just want to make sure I’m in compliance. And I need more fiber, most likely.

Also, I think it’s really smart of you to structure the fines for failure to report any blogging activity exactly like those for lobbyists — $25 per day the report is late, up to a maximum of $2,500, per blog post, to be paid to the appropriate office, depending on whether the non-reported blog post had been about a legislator or a member of the executive branch. Hey, if the post mentioned both, does half the fine go to each office, or is the fine doubled?

Maybe we should just write about county officials and school boards. They’re just as fucking crazy, but with less paperwork. HA! That’s what you WANT!

In any case, those fines would really pinch our income, which depends entirely on donations from our readers. They’re the best.

We see you explained to Florida Politics — a blog, we believe — that

Paid bloggers are lobbyists who write instead of talk. They both are professional electioneers. If lobbyists have to register and report, why shouldn’t paid bloggers?

We’re not so sure we agree with you 100 percent on your police work there, Senator.

You see, we’re mostly interested in making clear what an asshole you are, not necessarily in influencing legislation in the state of Florida, and we don’t represent any interest group other than our readers, who we may have mentioned are the only reason we’re able to do this anyway. Sure, we’d like to see your stupid fascist bill fail, and for you to be laughed out of office, but nobody’s paying us to advance that view on their behalf. A lot of those filthy fuckaducks are just here to post cat pictures, which we would add is a far better use of time than trying to threaten pissant non-newspaper independent opinion bloggers like Yours Truly.

In conclusion, we really look forward to your bill failing hard, either in the Florida Lege, or if Crom forbid it passes and Gov. Orban signs it, in the courts.

Also consider this our report of our mention of you in this blog, for which we were paid in Ameros and in cedar cheese anyway. Our Editrix has already filed her registration report, too, although it’s about pregnancy hemorrhoids, not cat pictures and difficult shits.

Hey, you know who else is a difficult shit? Yes, you’re right, it’s YOU.

Also, go fuck yourself. Did we mention that already? Just in case, go fuck right off the peninsula and keep fucking off all the way to the wide Sarcastro Sea.

See also the case of Flying Fuck v. Rolling Donut (1969) and the subsequent ruling in Flying Fuck v. Mooooooooooon (1976).

[Florida Politics / Daily Beast / Florida SB 1316]

Yr Wonkette, as you may have heard, is funded entirely by reader donations. If you can, please give $5 or $10 a month so we can keep you up to date on all the petty pigfucking these petty pigfuckers keep coming up with.

Do your Amazon shopping through this link, because reasons.

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The European Parliament, a model of transparency tarnished after ‘Qatargate’ arrests

Shaken by accusations of corruption levelled against several of its legislators, the European Parliament – historically seen as a leader in transparency – is coming to terms with the arrests of several of its MEPs on suspicion of accepting bribes from Doha in exchange for defending Qatari interests in Strasbourg.

Allegations of corruption involving Vice President Eva Kaili along with five MEPs and parliamentary attachés, the European institution once seen as a leader in lobbying transparency has seen its image tarnished in recent days by a scandal dubbed “Qatargate”. 

“The European Parliament is committed to promoting transparency and ethics when it comes to lobbying activities,” reads its official website. It also states that “together with the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, it uses a common transparency register” to monitor the activities of “interest representatives”. Each institution has the option to take additional measures and MEPs are instructed to publish information regarding their communication with lobbyists.

Third countries are often not required to sign the transparency register

The EU transparency register records the actions of more than 12,000 lobbying groups whose objective is to influence public decisions made at the European level. They may act on behalf of consultancy firms, companies, trade unions, religious organisations or academic institutions. Representatives of local authorities and public bodies may also be involved.

This database also records the interests defended, the legislation and public policies targeted, and the budgets allocated.

All lobbyists must be registered before they can obtain accreditation to the European Parliament, be heard by a parliamentary committee, or meet with European Commissioners, members of their cabinets or directors of the Commission’s administration.

As parliamentarians must make note in their online diaries of all formal meetings with lobbyists, the European register, in theory, is aware of all meetings taking place between an elected representative and those representing special interests. This rule applies to committee chairmen, text rapporteurs and parliamentary group aides (only their staff members are exempted).

These transparency rules were put in place in the early 2000s. The European register, on the other hand, emerged in 2011 in the wake of the “fake lobbyists” scandal, when three MEPs were tricked by journalists from the British newspaper The Sunday Times into tabling amendments in exchange for bribes of up to €100,000.

Over the years, measures have been put in place to promote transparency, regulate conflicts of interest with MEPs and define relationships with lobbyists, says Cécile Robert, a professor at Sciences Po Lyon specialising in European institutions and politics.

Political scientist Olivier Costa wrote an opinion piece for La Tribune on Tuesday reminding readers that the European system is not without its flaws. “It is highly irregular that emissaries from third countries [countries outside of the EU defending their interests before the EU parliament] are not required to sign the transparency register, as all other people who plan to visit European institutions must do so,” writes the researcher, arguing for a necessary change in the way the European Parliament operates.

Permanent representations (embassies in Brussels, for example) are exempt from signing the European register, says Costa, a lobbying and regulations expert. Furthermore, other third countries like Qatar – which, just like other organisations representing interests, should technically be included in the transparency register – are also often let off the hook.  

These third countries fall under a special category in this register (open access). “Currently, there are only four entries, so only four lobbies [associated with third countries] are listed, which differs entirely from reality,” says Robert, adding that Qatar is not on this short list.

Meetings masquerading as diplomatic visits

As parliamentarians must be listed in the European register, they are not allowed to enter into dealings with states that don’t appear on the register. However, when a state representative and parliamentarian “meet within the context of diplomatic visits”, says Robert, “no declaration is necessary, because they are not lobbyists as such [according to the European definition]”.

For instance, if the vice-chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Subcommittee meets with a public figure while on an official visit to a particular country, neither of them is required to sign the transparency register. A third country’s representatives must only register if they have come to Brussels to talk to an MEP in charge of a particular dossier and advocate for their country’s interests in relation to that dossier.

“In this case they are invited to sign the register, but as the register is not compulsory they can also dispense with it. It is up to the member of parliament, however – for whom signing is mandatory – to make the decision not to meet with them,” says Robert.

A lesson for every scandal

So are insufficiently restrictive regulations the problem? Yes, but not only, according to Robert. Other issues, such as “the way in which the rules governing MEPs’ code of conduct are structured, or the very limited resources allocated to security”, may have encouraged a scandal such as Qatargate.

Accepting money in exchange for a speech or adding an amendment to a European text (or even attempting to do so) has long been prohibited in the European Parliament, says Robert. “The rule is certainly insufficient in certain respects, but it was put in place after certain acts were committed. On the other hand, if there had been more security and means to check parliamentarians’ appointments, it might have been possible to limit certain interactions.”

Following a scandal of the magnitude of the one currently engulfing the European Parliament, the legislation will have to evolve.

Since 2011, “progress has been made, but at too slow a pace to circumvent the most unprincipled lobbyists and greediest MEPs”, writes Costa.

On Monday, French Social Democrat MEP Raphaël Glucksmann, chairman of the Special Committee on Foreign Interference in all EU Democratic Processes, called for a committee of enquiry and a high authority tasked with ensuring transparency in public life at the European level, based on France’s HATVP, to be created. The HATVP is an independent French administrative authority responsible for ascertaining and preventing potential conflicts of interest among French public servants.

The “positive side” to these scandals, Robert says, is that they are an opportunity for strengthening the rules. “This will inevitably lead to more supervision, transparency, and efforts to make these practices compatible with the exercise of democracy,” she says.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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