EU corruption scandal ‘a socialist problem,’ claims Conservative boss –

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The boss of one of Europe’s conservative parties is blaming the Socialists for the EU’s worst corruption scandal in decades – an unusually blunt political attack that hints at a possible strategy for Europe’s 2024 elections.

“This is a socialist problem,” Thanasis Bakoulas, secretary general of the EU-wide, center-right European People’s Party (EPP), told Politico in an interview, repeatedly admonishing socialists for their reaction to cash-for-influence. Investigations that have ensnared several prominent center-left figures.

The unusual assessment goes further than other EPP leaders, who have so far avoided using corruption probes to score political points. And it shows the EPP could be shifting into a more hard-charging, partisan campaign mode ahead of next year’s European elections, given Bakolas’ key role in crafting the party’s messaging.

The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, Bakolas claimed, failed to take responsibility for the so-called Katargate scandal, which led to the arrest of four S&D-affiliated people, including one of the group’s vice-presidents in parliament.

“Who is raising their hands and saying: ‘What happened? It’s my responsibility?’ Who is saying: ‘I have to look at my house?'” Bacolas said, speaking from his office in Brussels.

Until now, it was the EPP, he argues, pointing to a plan by Parliament President (and EPP member) Roberta Metsola, who proposed 14 reforms aimed at increasing accountability and transparency in Parliament.

“Roberta Metsola did it for the whole house. I have not heard the same thing from socialists,” he said.

S&D, of course, says such advice is baseless.

The group announced an internal review to be led by Silvina Bacigalupo — president of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Spain — and former British MEP Richard Corbett. It also proposed its own list of 15 reforms.

An S&D spokesperson said some of these measures are already being implemented while others need parliamentary approval.

“We are committed to the need for more ambitious reforms. In fact we are the only party that is in talks,” the spokesperson said.

But the Bakolas accused the S&D of letting the taint of the scandal permeate the entire parliament.

The public was given the impression that “everyone in the European Parliament is a bad apple” – something the S&D could have avoided by owning up to the scandal, he said.

Thanasis Bakoulas accuses the S&D of letting the taint of the Katargate scandal permeate the entire EU Parliament. European Parliament

“Socialists would have been honored by that,” he added. “And they would have improved the parliamentary system, they would have empowered their colleagues in parliament.”

Such open political bickering is rare in Brussels, where the most brutal games are usually played in private. But the Qatargate scandal has added new charges in the run-up to next year’s European elections. It also raised thorny questions for the S&D’s opponents about how to turn corruption to their political advantage without letting it blow into their hands.

The EPP’s earlier attempt to politicize the scandal fell flat when it issued a tweet calling the centre-left “hypocrisy”. The missive followed just hours after an announcement by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office that it was investigating Maria Spiraki, a Greek MEP and EPP member – though it turned out to be an unrelated case.

Other senior EPP members warned against singling out their rivals.

“The complaints are not about left or right or north or south,” Metsola said in the days following the revelations in December, urging MEPs to “resist the temptation to exploit this moment for political gain”.

Parliamentary Vice President Rainer Wieland, Germany’s six-term EPP MEP known for his influence on the body’s light-touch approach to ethics enforcement, also warned that politicians would lose credibility across the board if responses were based on “any political colour”. involved

“I don’t generally believe that EPP people are good people,” Wieland said in an interview this week. “It can happen everywhere.”

The S&D spokesman said politicizing the scandal would further undermine citizens’ trust in parliament.

“There is too much at stake to justify infighting now,” the spokesman said. “Instead of criticizing in general terms, the EPP should be more concrete and say what steps we have not taken. And rather focus on what action they should take. Are they there for complete transparency?”

Bakolas said his party prefers to campaign with a positive message. But he said centre-left political parties across the EU should be concerned. Because we are going through a period where people want good leadership, they want strong leaders who can manage well and deliver for their people.”

Bakolas is aware of the risk that rot could go beyond S&D.

“I run a tight ship here,” he said of the EPP’s party headquarters. “But, you know what? I am only as good as my people. and with [EPP President] Manfred Weber in the European Parliament, he’s as good as MEPs.”

“But you have to show leadership,” Bakolas said, adding that under Weber, “I can tell you this … what happened to the socialists would not have happened.”

Sarah Wetton and Eddie Wax contributed reporting.