Michel Claise, a Belgian investigating magistrate, earlier this month arrested several suspects with connections to the European Parliament on charges of corruption, money-laundering and criminal organisation.
One of the suspects is Eva Kaili, a prominent Greek MEP and a vice-president of the European Parliament, pictured above with Ali bin Samikh Al Marri, Qatar’s Minister of Labour. She has protested her innocence, but the Parliament quickly sacked her from the post of vice-president, and her party in Greece, PASOK, wants nothing more to do with her, and claims she is closer to the ruling conservatives.
Francesco Giorgi, who is Kaili’s partner (they have a daughter), was arrested too, and has attempted to take the blame on her behalf. He is 35 years old, and as well as being a keen yachtsman, has for 13 years been an accredited adviser at the European Parliament.
He is also one of the founders of an NGO called Fight Impunity, which declares on its website that it has an advisory board of prestigious European figures (several of whom quickly resigned when the scandal broke), and that it aims to uphold “the principle of accountability as a central pillar of the architecture of international justice”.
The President of the Board of Fight Impunity, Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former Italian MEP, was also arrested, and so, in Italy, were his wife and daughter.
The arrest warrant accused them, Politico reported, of “intervening politically with members working at the European Parliament for the benefit of Qatar and Morocco.”
As The Financial Times reports, Panzeri
“has emerged as the kingpin in a sprawling international investigation into allegations that Qatar and Morocco sought to bribe EU legislators to influence policy and used a network of non-governmental organisations to hide the corrupt dealings…
“police seized €600,000 in cash at his residence in Brussels. A separate suitcase with €600,000 in cash was found in the possession of the father of Eva Kaili…Kaili claims that the suitcase belonged to Panzeri, according to a person familiar with her case.
“Several hundred thousand more euros were found at Kaili’s home. In total, Belgian police say, almost €1.5 million in cash has been seized. In Italy, prosecutors seized €17,000 in cash and luxury watches at Panzeri’s homes in Lombardy.”
Why has it been left to a Belgian investigating magistrate to launch this investigation and make the arrests?
The answer is that the European Parliament is good at preaching democracy, and hopeless at practising it.
Its members proclaim high ideals, sometimes with undoubted sincerity, sometimes with cunning hypocrisy as a cover for corruption.
Self-enrichment is carried out in the name of justice, freedom, peace, democracy, Europe, every ideal one can think of, and is facilitated by a staggeringly lax expenses system.
It is legal to claim these expenses. Almost everyone does, to some extent, and after all, as an MEP one suffers the inconvenience of needing to get at frequent intervals from one’s home country to Belgium.
Boarding the gravy train is not quite as pleasurable an experience as one might hope, especially when one finds out who some of the other passengers are.
How little power one turns out to have as an MEP, and how dull the routine work of processing inordinately complicated regulations proves to be.
But those regulations are a matter of life and death to the industries concerned, which therefore employ thousands of lobbyists to make their case, who in turn strive to influence the relevant officials and MEPs.
Qatar wanted, indeed has pretty much got, a deal which would benefit its airport. There is intense competition between the Gulf states to become the region’s pre-eminent hub.
How can the Commission or the European Parliament get a grip on the inevitable lobbying, with its offers of riches far beyond what can be obtained from the expenses system?
Where does the buck stop? Who is in charge of the clattering gravy train?
At the back, or front, of every Westminster MP’s mind lies the thought of the next general election.
Every few years, the buck stops with the people. On election day, the voters will decide which party (or parties) henceforth enjoys the spoils of office, and which is to be cast into Opposition, or indeed oblivion.
The European Parliament is not, in that sense, a Parliament at all. Clarity never arrives. All is opaque, an endless subterranean wrestling match, for the irrelevant voters intolerably dull.
“Belgian justice is doing what at first sight the European Parliament hasn’t done,” Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium, observed after the scandal broke, and went on:
“The European Parliament has a lot of means to regulate itself. It turns out that this is largely a system of self-regulation based on voluntary efforts, which has clearly not been sufficient.”
High-minded rhetoric conceals, often from the rhetorician as well as the audience, an absence of political will.
Reform is a thankless task, and it is not as there are not other grave matters to attend to, notably the war in Ukraine.
Kaili is a well-known figure in Greece, where she was an MP and a television presenter. Her arrest has served as a welcome distraction from the threats uttered by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to train his new ballistic missiles on Athens.
Erdogan as the Putin of the Aegean! There is a horrible thought, from which one would long to be diverted.