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EU lawmakers back tighter transparency rules following Qatargate

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MEPs are set to re-write their internal rulebook to strengthen the European Parliament’s transparency and integrity regime as part of the response to the Qatargate corruption scandal.

On Thursday (7 September), the Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs committee backed a series of reforms designed to tighten the assembly’s internal rules on financial disclosure, gifts and their meetings with lobbyists.

They include requiring MEPs to declare all remunerated activities, “regular” or “occasional”, if their overall side income exceeds EUR5,000 annually. Meanwhile, EU lawmakers would not be allowed to receive any gifts worth more than EUR150, and any gifts over that value that they get while representing Parliament should be handed to the President. Declarations would have to be made for an MEP’s attendance at any event where their costs are paid by third parties.

The new rules are set to be finalised in a vote at the Parliament’s next plenary session in Strasbourg on Monday (11 September).

The moves follow the Qatargate scandal, which broke last December and has resulted in the arrest of a handful of Socialist MEPs, past and present, over allegations that they had received hundreds of thousands of euros in exchange for political favours from Qatar and Morocco. The investigations and criminal proceedings are ongoing.

In terms of transparency around lobbyists, all meetings of MEPs, or their assistants, with lobbyists will have to be declared.

The new rules will also introduce a public register of declarations of support ‘in cash or in kind’ for parliamentary intergroups.

The Parliament’s internal reforms are being enacted in parallel with negotiations between MEPs and the European Commission, which in June published plans to create a new Ethics Body covering the EU institutions.

The proposal for a new body, which was on the key demands made by MEPs following the Qatargate corruption scandal, would set common standards for the ethical conduct of members and a formal mechanism for coordination and exchange of views on ethical requirements among institutions.

That will also include rules on accepting gifts, hospitality and travel offered by third parties. However, it would not deal with individual investigations, which will be left in the hands of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and national police and judicial authorities.

MEPs have mooted whether to introduce a ban on second jobs held by lawmakers, although there is no clear majority on the matter.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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