The European Parliament decided against introducing mandatory registration of meetings between interest groups and MEPs on Wednesday (19 April) in a move criticised by pro-transparency campaigners.
MEPs voted on Wednesday on reforms of the Parliament’s internal rules of procedures, which partially overlap with the proposals to tackle corruption and improve transparency in the wake of the Qatargate scandal that overwhelmed the Parliament last December.
The file on rules reform began in 2021 in the constitutional affairs committee (AFCO), and was initially seen as being about “purely technical changes,” said the rapporteur, socialist MEP Gabriele Bischoff.
Bischoff’s proposals were approved with unanimity in AFCO but, ahead of the vote in plenary, the Left group sought to introduce an amendment for the mandatory registration of meetings with lobbyists. The Left needed only one political group to table the amendment, a condition sine qua non to put a file under the vote in this specific case but failed to get any support.
Mandatory meetings registration is one of the key points of the post-Qatargate reforms largely endorsed by the political groups in early February.
Ex-Parliament vice president Eva Kaili, former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri and Kaili’s partner Francesco Giorgi were arrested after being accused of accepting huge bribes to influence EU policy in early December, while Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella was arrested and accused of the same crime in February. The accused were recently released from prison under house arrest. Only Panzeri and Giorgi have admitted to criminal behaviour.
Qatargate has been at the centre of the EU agenda in the months following the scandal, while the European Parliament started working on possible reforms.
On 8 February, the political groups endorsed a package of internal procedures reform, the so-called 14 Metsola’ points, which contains provisions to prevent corruption, including a mandatory registration of meetings between lobbyists, MEPs (and their staff), more restrictive measures for ex-MEP badges, and a cooling off period of six months for former members before they can access the Parliament.
LEAK: Former EU lawmakers to be barred from lobbying for six months
Former EU lawmakers will be banned from lobbying the European Parliament for six months after leaving the institution, as part of a revised plan, seen by EURACTIV, proposed in the wake of the Qatargate corruption scandal.
Bischoff told EURACTIV that the vote was on “purely technical changes to Parliament’s rules of procedures that result from the focus groups on internal reforms that have taken place over the past few years and from recently adopted inter-institutional agreements”.
“The changes of the rules covering the Transparency Register simply align our internal rules with the outcome of the Inter-Institutional Agreement approved in 2021. All political groups supported this approach and the report was adopted in the AFCO committee by a unanimous vote,” the German MEP added.
However, others consider the decision a lost opportunity for the Parliament to take action against corruption.
“If you cart out a lot of procedural-based justifications it all sounds a bit reasonable. But in the end, they had an opportunity to vote on a meaningful reform measure this week, after months of inaction, that consisted of amending 10 words. They politically chose not to,” Nick Aiossa, Deputy Director at Transparency International EU, told EURACTIV .
Next Qatargate steps
The Bureau of the European Parliament, a group composed of the president and vice-presidents responsible for administration and organisational matters of the chamber, approved on Monday (17 April) the badge restrictions and the cooling off period for ex-members.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]