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EU transparency watchdog urges Parliament to deliver on post-Qatargate reforms

EU transparency watchdog urges Parliament to deliver on post-Qatargate reforms

by host

BRUSSELS — EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly called upon the European Parliament president to deliver on transparency reforms she promised after the so-called Qatargate corruption scandal broke late last year.

The ombudsman urged Parliament President Roberta Metsola to resist pressure from lawmakers and implement the 14 reform proposals that were floated in the wake of the alleged cash-for-influence scandal, in which European lawmakers were accused of taking bribes from foreign countries including Qatar and Morocco.

Parliamentary political groups backed these proposals in February and they are in the process of being adopted by the EU’s assembly, Metsola wrote in a letter to O’Reilly dated March 20.

“I’m sure President Metsola is getting pushback from MEPs and groups … It’s a very challenging position for her [Metsola] because I believe in her bona fide,” O’Reilly told reporters in a press conference Tuesday following the publication of the ombudsman’s annual report.

O’Reilly warned that Parliament’s reforms have to match Metsola’s rhetoric in the aftermath of Qatargate, recalling that the president of the EU assembly had referred to the scandal as an “attack on European democracy” in December 2022.

The ombudsman alluded to how Metsola is “under some pressure from others” to water down the reform proposals, although she stopped short of naming names.

O’Reilly pointed to such pressures for example leading Parliament to reduce the cooling-off period on lobbying for former parliamentarians from the originally proposed two years to six months — undermining the measure’s effectiveness.

Political groups sparred over Metsola’s reform plan, as the center-left Socialists and Democrats claimed that the proposals did not go far enough. Meanwhile, the center-right European People’s Party had called for tougher scrutiny on nongovernmental organizations.

The ombudsman also renewed calls on the European Parliament to strengthen its advisory committee, an internal watchdog made up of five MEPs who are supposed to ensure that their peers stick to an ethics code in fields such as financial conflicts of interest, and declaring gifts or paid-for foreign trips.

O’Reilly said that the committee’s reliance on its own internal appointees undermines its independence and effectiveness, and called on Metsola to draw in external expertise.

Most of the reform proposals will be scrutinized by the Parliament’s internal rulemaking body, the so-called Bureau, and by the assembly’s committee on constitutional affairs, Metsola wrote in her letter to O’Reilly.

The aim is for Parliament to vote on these measures in July, she added.

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