Members of the European Parliament have been largely negligent in the past when it came to declaring benefits received from third parties. Not anymore, as Transparency International’s analysis, published on Wednesday, February 15th, shows. As Qatargate grows, so does the willingness of MEPs to play by the book.
‘Freebies’ or ‘junkets’ are terms commonly used in Brussels for free travel, accommodations, and other expenses that come with MEPs attending events organized by third parties. Under EU rules, MEPs need to declare all such events “no later than the last day of the next following month,” or face potential fines if they fail to do so.
In practice, however, most MEPs simply chose to ignore this rule in the past. The recent report suggests that this negligent attitude has changed dramatically since Qatargate swept through the Parliament.
Fear is a Great Motivator
Transparency International decided to go through all of the travel declarations put down since the beginning of the current parliamentary term in 2019 and found that a third of those were submitted in the past two months alone. In total, 321 declarations were submitted over the 3.5-years-long period, 103 (32%) of those came in after Qatargate broke in mid-December.
It’s not hard to understand why the European Parliament’s latest scandal had such an effect on negligent MEPs. Ex-MEP Eva Kaili and her closest co-conspirators, as the Qatargate’s central figures, were apparently not only paid for their role in negotiating special treatment for Doha in cash, but also in a number of ‘freebies.’ The secret pact between the colluding parties included annual “projects” and “conferences” at exotic locations, complete with business class flights and luxury hotel stays.
As more and more implicating details emerge around the scandal, it’s only natural that MEPs rush to submit their previously undisclosed travels, lest they risk becoming the next target of investigators.
Better Late than Sorry
The report also found that among those submitting travel declarations in the past two months, “at least 53 MEPs were in breach” of the Parliament’s code of conduct. That’s half of a hundred parliamentarians who rushed to rectify past mistakes, even if that practically means admitting to being late. The report used the words “at least” because we only have information on those who did submit anything—on time or otherwise.
The analysis found that, in total, 28% of travel declarations since July 2019 were submitted after their respective deadlines ended, but among those that were submitted since the beginning of the Qatargate, 67% came in late.
As an interesting addition, the report mentions that among the destinations of the ten most delayed declarations, Qatar appears not once but three times—all three declared by leftist MEPs from S&D and Renew, and two of them being late by over a thousand days.
Is Transparency a Conservative Thing?
Looking at the breakdown by parties, the most late submissions in absolute numbers were declared by EPP members (30), closely followed by the S&D (27). However, if we were to take a look at how the parties compare in their percentage of late submissions (relative to their total number of travels), the socialists quickly take the lead.
As it turns out, the parties who are most prone to being behind with their obligations are the S&D (60% of declarations come in late), the Left (42%), the Greens (38%) and Renew (27%.) Apart from the EPP (26% late), conservative parties have a much better track record. MEPs from ECR have been on time with their declarations 96% of the time, while the ID group hasn’t submitted even one late declaration.
These numbers are far from providing any solid evidence when it comes to accepting bribes in the European Parliament, but if they are any indication of who else might have been guilty in the past, then it would appear corruption is much more likely to be present on one side of the political aisle than the other.