If the Qatargate corruption scandal in the European Parliament has boosted the career of one of its MEPs, that person might well be Marc Angel. The Luxembourg member of the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) took over on Wednesday from the disgraced former Vice President of Greece Eva Kaili. She was fired last month and faces charges of corruption, membership in a criminal organization and money laundering.
Qatar is suspected of bribing lawmakers to influence EU political decisions, which the country has denied. Several people with ties to the EU lawmaker were detained after the December 9 raids in Brussels, when Belgian police seized nearly €1.5 million (about $1.6 million). Some were released soon after. Four suspects, including Kaili, were charged.
Angel rose briefly to welcome the results of the vote that made him one of 14 vice presidents of the legislature. His colleagues applauded; Angel motioned for them to pack it up quickly.
The role of vice president is relatively small in the grand scheme of things. Vice presidents are responsible for creating rules for the “smooth functioning” of parliament, according to the legislature’s website. The vices draw up a preliminary draft budget and decide on administrative, personnel and organizational matters. The president can also delegate special tasks to vices.
Don’t wait for Angel to save the EU Parliament
In other words, Angel will not necessarily lead a clean-up in parliament. That task falls mainly to President Roberta Metsola of the centre-right group of the European People’s Party, who has already laid out a 14-point reform plan to stop a repeated display of Qatargate.
“There will be no impunity, there will be no sweeping under the carpet and there will be no business as usual,” Metsola said last December when she promised “broad reforms,” adding that she would “personally lead this work.”
Nevertheless, Alberto Alemanno, founder of advocacy group The Good Lobby, said Angel’s selection was a “missed opportunity” for the European Parliament to show it was serious about changing things. “[Angel] has no record of transparency and integrity,” noted the professor at the HEC Paris business school. Angel is currently vice-chair of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. He also sits on other committees and delegations, none with a clear link to the issues raised by Qatargate.
The 59-year-old comes from the same political group as Kaili, S&D, the second largest in the 705-seat legislature. Several of its members, albeit suspended, and former members are prime suspects in Qatargate investigations, and it has promised to conduct an internal investigation that has not yet begun.
Business as usual?
In the wake of the biggest corruption scandal to ever hit parliament, the response has so far been lackluster, Alemanno said. The institutional response from the European Parliament, as well as from the Commission, suggests that EU leaders are reluctant to publicly acknowledge the systemic failures of the EU’s ethical regime, and their own political parties in selecting and scrutinizing existing and former MEPs.” Alemanno told TBEN.
When asked why it was acceptable for the group to stand firm despite serious allegations against its members (several have now been suspended), S&D President Iratxe Garcia Perez pointed to a power-sharing agreement between the three largest parliamentary groups following the European elections of 2019. . “We think we should continue that agreement,” Garcia told reporters in Strasbourg, indicating that the center-right European People’s Party and center-right Renew Europe also wanted to abide by it.
Besides the S&D, only the Greens and the far-right ID group nominated candidates for Wednesday’s vote.
Metsola’s reform proposals — including a ban on parliamentary “friendship groups” with third countries and a mandatory cooling-off period for former members who could use their access to lobby — don’t go far enough for Alemanno. The S&D, Greens and the Left all welcomed the proposals, but also called for more ambition.
EU Parliament underestimates seriousness, analysts warn
Like Alemanno, analyst Camino Mortera of the Center for European Reform is concerned that the European Parliament is underestimating the scale of necessary reforms. “I don’t think parliament itself has realized that by not reforming, by not taking this opportunity to do something important against this kind of behaviour, they are opening themselves up to more criticism,” Mortera told TBEN.
In fact, parliament risks becoming irrelevant or even counterproductive in its attempts to expose corruption or rule of law violations within the EU and globally, she said.
Former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, a key Qatargate suspect, has agreed to cooperate with investigators, Belgian authorities announced on Tuesday. Panzeri promised to share information about the parties involved and the alleged crimes in the case, which could increase the list of suspects.
As the only directly elected EU institution, parliament has over the years asked the other EU institutions – the European Commission and the European Council, which is made up of EU leaders – for more powers, with some success. However, more responsibility does not mean more responsibility, Mortera warns.
Looking ahead to the 2024 European elections, the European Parliament, which has long advocated a greater role in the appointment of top European Commission officials, may find its advocacy for more power weakened, Mortera said.
“Unfortunately this is going to be one of the biggest stories, if not the biggest story the average Joe from the European Parliament has heard,” she said.
“I think it will be very detrimental to engagement and citizen participation in the European elections.”
Edited by: Nicole Goebel