Femicide: Is Luxembourg failing its women?

Luxembourg has made huge progress in recent years to improve gender equality and tackle domestic violence. But when it comes to women being murdered by men some have raised concerns.

Diana Santos, a Portuguese woman in her 40s who had recently moved to Diekirch, Luxembourg, was found brutally murdered and dismembered in Mont-saint-Martin, across the French border in September last year.

Three weeks later, a 20-year-old woman was beaten to death with a hammer at a house in Luxembourg’s capital. 

In December 2022, the body of another Portuguese emigrée – 32-year-old Diana Martins Cachapa – was discovered “partially dismembered and mutilated” in her apartment in Bonnevoie. 

These horrific deaths sent shockwaves across Luxembourg, a country known for its tiny size, serene landscapes and wealth, boasting one of the largest GDP per capitas in the world. 

In other European countries, such murders can be deemed “femicides”. That’s the deliberate killing of a woman motivated by sex-based hate. 

Past cases have caused a reckoning among governments and members of the public, with officials trying to confront an epidemic of violence against women.

But not in Luxembourg. Here three women’s deaths were labelled as simple homicides and considered legally no different than any other murder in the country.

While femicide has become part of the mainstream debate around much of Europe, only two European countries currently recognise it as a crime in its own right – Cyprus and Malta.

Still, Luxembourg’s homicide rate is generally much lower than elsewhere in Europe. In 2021, it was 0.6 cases per 100,000 population, while in France the homicide rate was 1.35 per 100,000 people the year before. 

“From the perspective of other countries like France, there are not a lot of femicides in Luxembourg,” Emilie Chesné, a French reporter who researched the issue for the Luxembourg Times, told Euronews. 

“But for a country like Luxembourg, that it’s so small, it’s a lot.”

Surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany, Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe, with a population of around 640,000. 

“In Luxembourg, we have normally about 1-2 femicides per year,” Andrée Birnbaum, a spokesperson for the domestic violence support group Femmes en Détresse said. “This seems not to be a big number, but it is more or less the same proportion as in France.”

In Luxembourg last year, 2,521 people were affected by physical violence, 2,374 by psychological violence, 150 victims of sexual domestic violence and 264 victims of economic violence – when a partner exerts control through finances – according to data from the government’s Equality Observatory. 

Two-thirds of those who suffered domestic violence at the hands of a partner or ex-partner last year in Luxembourg were women.

Is Luxembourg ‘falling short’ when it comes to femicide?

“We are one of the only countries that have a Ministry for Equality,” Gabrielle Antar, a reporter for the Luxembourg Times who has worked with Chesné to bring the issue to the public’s attention, told Euronews.

“On a superficial level, it looks like we’re doing a lot. But when you look at the concrete issues, and what actually needs to be done to tackle them, that’s where you can see that Luxembourg falls short.”

Murders of women in Luxembourg are often interpreted by the media on a case-by-case basis instead of being seen as symptomatic of a wider phenomenon, Antar said.

Though some observers have started to talk about femicides, others have not. 

“It’s still a conversation that hasn’t really reached the mainstream yet,” added Antar. 

Luxembourg authorities have focused on tackling domestic violence instead – another problem growing in recent years – she continued. 

By establishing femicide as a crime in its own right, journalists Antar and Chesné said authorities could collect data on the phenomenon and take action to protect women better.

“The moment you recognise something you are able to collect data on that,” Antar said. “The data for violence against women except for domestic violence is almost nonexistent, even for femicide.” 

“It’s a shame that we see these cases as just women being murdered and not women being murdered because they’re women,” she added. 

Why recognise femicide as a separate crime?

UN Women estimates that globally 81,000 women and girls were killed in 2020.

Around 47,000 of them – 58 per cent – died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member.

Some women 2,600 were killed in Europe, according to UN data. “However, the number of victims is much higher as not all cases are recognised as femicides,” a spokesperson from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) added.

In its recent research on the issue, EIGE has identified the lack of legal recognition of femicide as one of the most important challenges.

“The experts we interviewed noted that recognising femicide as a separate criminal offence could bring numerous benefits,” the spokesperson said. “They pointed out that it could improve awareness raising, prevention and applying the law.”

Experts also mentioned that this change would contribute to making femicide visible and aid prevention by recognising gender-based violence and increasing reporting to the police by victims.

“What does not exist, is also not discussed,” a professional counsellor from Germany told EIGE. “Neither with the investigating authorities nor with the investigating procedures nor with the judges.”

Belgium has recently introduced new legislation which defines different types of femicide and puts focus on data collection.

Is Luxembourg going to recognise femicide as a crime?

At the moment, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg does not intend to recognise femicide as a crime. 

In a statement to Euronews, the Ministry of Justice said: “There are currently no plans to create a specific offence of this kind, given that the legal scope of such an offence would be considerably limited.”

Intentional assault and battery against an intimate partner is punishable by 6 months to 5 years imprisonment in Luxembourg. Meanwhile, murder is punishable by life imprisonment, “regardless of the gender of the victim,” the Ministry added. 

“The introduction of an offence of femicide would therefore have no legal impact, particularly in terms of sentencing,” it said. 

A new law introduced on 28 March this year adds discrimination as an aggravating circumstance for a crime, which the Ministry described as “the most effective way of taking femicide into account in law.” 

“This law will enable the courts to find that a person has been killed because of her sex or gender, which will result in an increase in the sentence for offences punishable by prison sentences other than life imprisonment, including assault and battery,” it explained.

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West after Wagner rebellion: Talk softly and help Ukraine carry a bigger stick

As the United States and its European allies work to make sense of last weekend’s chaos in the Kremlin, they’re urging Kyiv to seize a “window” of opportunity that could help its counteroffensive push through Russian positions.

The forming response: Transatlantic allies are hoping, largely by keeping silent, to de-escalate the immediate political crisis while quietly pushing Ukraine to strike a devastating blow against Russia on the battlefield. It’s best to hit an enemy while it’s down, and Kyiv would be hard-pressed to find a more wounded Russia, militarily and politically, than it is right now. 

In public, American and European leaders stressed that they are preparing for any outcome, as it still remained unclear where the mercenary rebellion would ultimately lead. Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led the revolt, resurfaced on Monday, claiming he had merely wanted to protest, not topple the Russian government — while simultaneously insisting his paramilitary force would remain operational. 

“It’s still too early to reach a definitive conclusion about where this is going,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday afternoon. “The overall outcome of this remains to be seen.” 

For the moment, European officials see no greater threat to the Continent even as they watch for signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two-decade hold on power might be slipping. 

Western allies attribute the relative calm to how they managed Prigozhin’s 24-hour tantrum. 

During the fighting, senior Biden administration figures and their European counterparts agreed on calls that they should remain “silent” and “neutral” about the mutiny, said three U.S. and European officials, who like others were granted anonymity to discuss fast-moving and sensitive deliberations.

In Monday’s meeting of top EU diplomats in Luxembourg, officials from multiple countries acted with a little-to-see-here attitude. No one wanted to give the Kremlin an opening to claim Washington and its friends were behind the Wagner Group’s targeting of senior Russian military officials. 

“We made clear that we were not involved. We had nothing to do with it,” Biden said from the White House Monday, relaying the transatlantic message. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled on Monday that his regime would still look into the potential involvement of Western spies in the rebellion.

The broader question is how, or even if, the unprecedented moment could reverse Ukraine’s fortunes as its counteroffensive stalls.

The U.S. and some European nations have urged Ukraine for weeks to move faster and harder on the front lines. The criticism is that Kyiv has acted too cautiously, waiting for perfect weather conditions and other factors to align before striking Russia’s dug-in fortifications. 

Now, with Moscow’s political and military weaknesses laid bare, there’s a “window” for Ukraine to push through the first defensive positions, a U.S. official said. Others in the U.S. and Europe assess that Russian troops might lay down their arms if Ukraine gets the upper hand while command and control problems from the Kremlin persist.

“Russia does not appear to have the uncommitted ground forces needed to counter the multiple threats it is now facing from Ukraine, which extend over 200 kilometers [124 miles] from Bakhmut to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River,” U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in the House of Commons Monday.

Ukrainian officials say there’s no purposeful delay on their part. Russia’s air power, literal minefields and bad weather have impeded Kyiv’s advances, they insist, conceding that they do wish they could move faster. 

“We’re still moving forward in different parts of the front line,” Yuri Sak, an adviser to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, said in an interview.

“Earlier it was not possible to assess the solidity of the Russian defenses,” Sak added. “Only now that we are doing active probing operations, we get a better picture. The obtained information will be factored into the next stages of our offensive operations.”

Analysts have long warned that, despite the training Ukrainian forces have received from Western militaries, it was unlikely that they would fight just like a NATO force. Kyiv is still operating with a strategy of attrition despite recent drills on combined-arms operations, maneuver warfare and longer-range precision fires.

During Monday’s gathering of top EU diplomats, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said now was the time to pump more artillery systems and missiles into Kyiv’s arsenal, place more sanctions on Russia and speed up the training of Ukrainian pilots on advanced fighter jets. 

“Together, all these steps will allow the liberation of all Ukrainian territories,” he asserted.

In the meantime, European officials will keep an eye on Russia as they consider NATO’s own security. 

“I think that nobody has yet understood what is going on in Russia — frankly I have a feeling also that the leadership in Moscow has no clue what is going on in their own country,” quipped Latvia’s Foreign Minister and President-elect Edgars Rinkēvičs in a phone interview on Monday afternoon. 

“We are prepared, as we always would be, for a range of scenarios,” U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters Monday.

NATO allies will continue to watch for whether Russia starts to crumble or if the autocrat atop the Kremlin can hold his nation together with spit and tape. 

“The question is how Putin will now react to his public humiliation. His reaction — to save his face and reestablish his authority — may well be a further crackdown on any domestic dissent and an intensified war effort in Ukraine,” said a Central European defense official. The official added that there’s no belief Putin will reach for a nuclear option during the greatest threat to his rule in two decades.

In the meantime, an Eastern European senior diplomat said, “we will increase monitoring, possibly our national vigilance and intelligence efforts. Additional border protection measures might be feasible. We need more allied forces in place.”

Alexander Ward reported from Washington. Lili Bayer reported from Brussels. Suzanne Lynch reported from Luxembourg. Cristina Gallardo reported from London. 

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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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Faster, higher, smaller: Europe’s unknown ‘tiny Olympics’

For Magaly Meynadier, next month will not only be a shot at redemption following a long recovery, but a “special” chance to don the national jersey and represent her nation.

Meynadier, now 31 and an integral part of the Luxembourg women’s basketball squad, still remembers the first time she paraded with fellow athletes while thousands of fans cheered. 

It was at the Games of Small States of Europe (GSSE), a biennial sporting event featuring nine small European sovereign states.

“When it [GSSE] happened in Luxembourg, we were in the big football stadium and we all had to go around and people were cheering for us,” Meynadier tells Euronews, reminiscing about her first games in 2013 as a part of the gold medal-winning side.

Representing one’s nation is a great achievement, even more so when it comes to countries with smaller populations, which can be significantly disadvantaged in major global tournaments.

That is the case with Malta, Iceland, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Montenegro, Cyprus, Andorra, Monaco, and Meynadier’s Luxembourg – the nine nations that will show up in Malta in May to compete in the 19th GSSE.

‘The Tiny Olympics’

Spots at the Olympics come at a premium and the competition to win is fierce. Only a few countries manage to qualify with full squads, and can end up dominating the medals tally.

For nations with a limited talent pool to work with, qualifying for the sporting gala is tough, and reaching the podium even more of a long shot. 

And that’s where the GSSE comes in.

Founded by eight independent Olympic committees in 1984, the rules to participate in the games are simple – an Olympic committee has to be independent, a member of the European Olympic Committee and should represent nations with populations of less than a million. 

Montenegro joined in 2009 with the Olympic committees of the Vatican City and Faroe Island are actively seeking to tick the boxes to join the mix.

In addition to having a handful of Olympic sports, the games also follow similar opening ceremony rituals to their ‘full-sized’ Olympic games: with a Parade of Nations, artistic displays, and speeches.

But that is not the only reason why competing athletes prefer to term it the “tiny Olympics.”

“Throughout the entire process of preparing, racing and being there, the Olympic spirit shines bright and that’s what makes it special,” Icelandic swimmer Anton McKee tells Euronews. 

Mckee, 29, has competed in multiple GSSEs over the years and won 10 medals in the 2015 games held in Iceland.

“The most special thing is that for many athletes from countries that are underrepresented, it’s their time to shine,” he adds.

The platform to step-up

Despite the affable nature of the games, the GSSE is becoming more competitive. 

“Now, most countries send athletes to win medals rather than just to participate. In the beginning, it was different. But now it is definitely to compete for medals,” Julian Pace Bonello, President of the Maltese Olympic Committee, tells Euronews.

By providing a platform for athletes to compete, the GSSE plays a part in stepping up the level of the competing countries. San Marino’s heroics at the Tokyo Olympics, winning two silvers and a bronze to become the smallest country by population to win an Olympic medal, is a testament to that.

“We never say that the GSSE is the end of the road. We say it’s the stepping stone to being able to compete at a higher level,” Bonello adds.

As an athlete, McKee agrees that the GSSE helped him in competing in several international championships, including the Summer Olympics: “GSSE was one of the breakout meets for me as an athlete. Being able to get the medals by going up against swimmers that I thought I couldn’t beat was proving to myself that I was one of the best swimmers of that calibre.”

The sense of competitiveness also reflects in the medal tally. McKee’s Iceland has won the most gold medals, dominating aquatic and athletic sports.

More than just the games

As the Maltese capital of Valletta prepares to host its third GSSE, the organising committee is keen on tapping into the positive impacts that sporting events are capable of bringing.

Facilities that were made for the 2003 games in Malta bolstered the country’s sporting capabilities and helped to spark interest among the locals.

“When it’s your turn to host the games, you have the government come on board. You’ll get additional funding, you’ll get facilities upgraded, you get new facilities which are not only for the games, they will be used after the games are over,” MOC president Bonello explains.

The biennial host cities also take the opportunity to exhibit the local culture and national identities. The mascot for the 2023 games, Lampuka, is derived from Puka, a dorado fish native to the waters of Malta. The 2019 games in Montenegro had Smokvić, the energetic fig as the mascot with the slogan “How Big We Are”. 

Similarly, there are positives for athletes too.

The spotlight on the Luxembourger women’s basketball team significantly increased following the 2013 triumphant home games. For a team with many part-time athletes, Magaly Meynadier says the interest has helped the team compete and increased the participation of women in different sports. 

“After what we did in Luxembourg, we could see that the people were coming to actually watch us when we were playing at home. It is not the only gold that we’ve won, but it was very nice to see the growing interest in the women’s basketball team,” she says.

‘You play for the team’

Francesco Sansovini vividly remembers the moments he became a GSSE gold medalist in 2019.

Sansovini, then 19, ran the final leg of the men’s 4×400 metre relay, with a strained hamstring threatening both his performance and confidence. The Sammarinese sprinted despite the stinging pain, with the thought of bringing the medal home.

He ended up crossing the finishing line first, and the gold medal hangs in his bedroom.

“Every morning, I see the gold medal and aspire to do better in Malta,” he says.

Since countries show up with full squads at the GSSE, single athletes like Sansovini also compete in relays – a feat made impossible due to quotas in other major tournaments.

Like San Marino, GSSE Iceland also gets to send full rosters, and that is what makes the games particularly special for Anton McKee.

“In GSSE, the relays are one of the most exciting aspects – racing with your teammates and racing against other countries. There’s something special about it. You forget your own ego and aspirations. You just want to win a race as fast as you can for your team and your country,” he says exuberantly.

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To go or not to go? Von der Leyen’s COVID committee dilemma

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There won’t be any severed horses’ heads but the European Commission president may soon receive an offer that she can’t refuse — at least without causing an institutional dust-up.

Last week, the coordinators of the European Parliament’s special committee on COVID-19 voted to invite Ursula von der Leyen to appear in front of the panel to answer their questions on vaccine procurement. 

It’s not a courtesy call. EU lawmakers want to shine a light on exactly what happened during those hectic months at the height of the pandemic in 2021, when the bloc was frantically searching for vaccine doses to protect its population from the coronavirus.

The committee’s chair, Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt has said she wants full transparency on the “preliminary negotations” leading up to vaccine purchases — a reference to the Commission president’s unusual personal role in negotiating the EU’s biggest vaccine contract, signed with Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. An appearance would refocus attention on von der Leyen’s highly contentious undisclosed text messages with Pfizer’s chief executive.

It’s a topic von der Leyen has so far fiercely resisted opening up about but the COVI committee invite could put the Commission president in a sticky situation.

All bark, no bite? 

On the face of it, von der Leyen could just say no. European Parliament committees don’t have many formal powers. They have no rights to compel witnesses to appear or to get them to tell the truth — and there’s no recourse if someone refuses to appear or lies in front of the committee.

Indeed, Pfizer’s Chief Executive Albert Bourla — with whom von der Leyen is reported to have conducted personal negotiations via text message — thumbed his nose at the committee more than once, and sent one of his employees instead.

Even when the Parliament does reel in a big name, the performance can be lackluster — like in the case of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who agreed to show up but then avoided answering most questions. That’s a far cry from how the U.S. Senate’s commerce and judiciary committees grilled the tech titan for hours. 

And the Commission president has already shown a penchant for being evasive when it comes the Pfizer negotiations, earning the Commission a verdict of maladministration from the European Ombudsman for its lack of transparency.

However, the fact that von der Leyen is an inter-institutional figure gives the Parliament more bite than with external guests — and may help tip the balance in the committee’s favour.

First, there’s precedent. While the Commission President usually appears in front of all MEPs at a plenary session such as in the annual State of the European Union speech, Commission presidents have appeared in front of committees in the past. Von der Leyen’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, for example, appeared in front of a special committee to answer uncomfortable questions over his role in making Luxembourg a tax haven. 

Secondly, the European Parliament is tasked with overseeing the EU’s budget. With billions of euros spent in the joint purchase of the vaccines, and part of those funds coming straight from the EU’s pockets, it’s hard to argue that there aren’t important financial considerations at play, and ones that the elected representatives of the EU should be allowed to scrutinize.

Then there’s Article 13 of the EU’s founding treaty, which calls for “mutual sincere cooperation” between the EU’s institutions. It’s a point that’s repeated in an inter-institutional agreement between the Parliament and the Commission, which states that the EU’s executive should also provide lawmakers with confidential information when it’s requested — like, for example, the contents of certain text messages.

The Commission has so far been tight-lipped. When asked last week about Ursula von der Leyen’s upcoming invite to the COVID-19 committee, a Commission spokesperson said “No such invitation has been received.”

Don’t shoot the messenger 

And, in fact, it’s now up to European Parliament president Roberta Metsola to decide whether the invite will ever reach von der Leyen’s hands. The request is on her desk and, per protocol, any invitation to appear must come from the president’s office.

Metsola, who belongs to the same political group as von der Leyen (the center-right European People’s Party), confirmed to POLITICO that she has received a letter from the COVI committee and “will look at it.” “I cannot pre-empt what my reply will be to that committee,” she said.

As long as proper form is followed, Metsola should “pass on the message,” said Emilio De Capitani, a former civil servant who for 14 years was secretary of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee (LIBE).

“The question isn’t abusive,” said De Capitani.  

In theory, von der Leyen, who was elected to her role by the Parliament, relies on its mandate to stay there.

“There’s nothing strange about meeting with an organ of the Parliament,” the former Parliamentary official added. “Then it will be up to von der Leyen to ask whether the hearing is in public or, behind closed doors. She could also choose to address it in plenary.” 

For political operatives such as Metsola and von der Leyen, the optics of their actions are likely to play a major role in any decision. And this invite comes at the same time as the biggest scandal in the European Parliament’s history.

An assistant for one of the MEPs in the COVI committee said the drive for transparency produced by the unfolding “Qatargate” influence scandal gave extra force to the invite.

“It wouldn’t have had the same result without Qatargate,” said the assistant. “If she says no, it will only make the problem worse.” 

Not everyone agrees. Detractors say the Parliament has lost its moral standing. And that even if none of the MEPs in the COVID-19 committee are implicated, the institution is still weakened on the whole.

“I think this [Qatargate] will make it less likely for von der Leyen to cooperate with the Parliament,” said Camino Mortera-Martinez, head of the Brussels office at the think tank Centre for European Reform. She said the Commission president is riding high after weathering a pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine.

“The European Parliament in theory could force von der Leyen to appear by threatening to dismiss her — but how can they do that in the current climate?”

This article was updated Friday morning to include comment from Roberta Metsola.

Eddy Wax contributed reporting.

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