Former members of the European Parliament will be banned from lobbying in Brussels and Strasbourg for six months after leaving office under plans approved by political leaders in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday night.
Roberta Metsola, head of the center-right Maltese parliament, has drawn up an initial 14-point list of reforms to strengthen transparency and integrity rules and future-proof the institution against a repeat of the Katargate scandal, in which current and former MEPs have been accused. Taking bribes from Qatar and Morocco.
Other reforms include amnesty for MEPs to submit trip declarations for late gifts and payments, an entry log for parliament, and widening the scope for MEPs and aides who must declare meetings with lobbyists.
According to an EU official, there were only minor changes and wording from the document seen by POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook earlier Wednesday. That document included a number of changes to Metsola’s original proposals, the main ones being a stronger commitment to protection for whistleblowers and a shortening of the so-called cooling-off period that bans former MEPs from immediate lobbying work, potentially down from 24 months. It’s only six o’clock to leave the office.
“Work on these reforms will begin immediately to ensure entry into force as soon as possible,” Parliament said in a press release.
“We want to move forward so now is the time to implement them,” Manfred Weber, leader of the center-right European People’s Party, told Politico after the meeting, adding that there was a “general green light” for the package. Four officers of parliament present in the room confirmed that an informal agreement had been reached.
There was no formal vote at the meeting, but although no political party is threatening to block the process, the Greens, Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and left parties want more.
“They want to paper over the cracks and have a vice president accused of corruption, transparency registration obligations and MEPs declaring assets at the beginning and end of their mandate,” Left co-chairman Manon Aubry told Politico.
Aubry said he would push for further debate in Strasbourg next week and a parliamentary text on the importance of sticking to the far-reaching Katargate. resolution Approved by a majority of MEPs in December shortly after the scandal broke.
The proposal called for the formation of a dedicated committee to investigate allegations of corruption. The latest Metsola plan instead suggests reconstituting a pre-existing Special Committee on Foreign Intervention, which parliament officials argue would save time and provide faster recommendations on deeper reforms.
Aubry pointed the finger at his fellow French politician, Stéphane Cezorn, leader of the Renew Europe group, whom he accused of failing to support the December vote.
A Renewal spokesman said: “He’s trying to find every possible way to say we don’t agree. That’s not true. Whether he likes it or not, we agree with him and stand with the Greens and the left in a broader way.”
Metsola’s team said the reforms are intended as a “first step” that could quickly provide a political answer to the corruption scandal and could be implemented within months.
According to a text from an S&D official, Socialist group president Eratoxe García told the room: “Metsola’s proposed measures are a starting point, but not enough. Protection for whistleblowers is too vague, the six-month cooling-off period for former MEPs is too short (we propose 24 months) and there are other weak points.”
“There was an agreement to continue the talks,” said the same S&D official.
The role of NGOs has also been tussled left and right in light of the Katargate scandal, which has shed light on the activities of two human rights NGOs, Fight Immunity — run by former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, who is currently detained and made a deal with prosecutors to disclose everything — and justice. No Peace Without, a major recipient of EU funding and led by Niccolò Figa-Talamanca, who was released last Friday.
The EPP is pushing for tougher investigations of NGOs but civil society groups, particularly those working on human rights such as Human Rights Watch, fear it is part of a larger effort to fuel the scandal to discredit their work.
Aubry accused the EPP of refusing to look at institutional failures and instead “reprimanded all the NGOs for not talking about the rest of the matter.”
The Metsola plan outlines rules that would prevent parliamentary staff and MEP aides from holding senior positions in NGOs funded by non-EU governments. EPP intends to take this further successfully A debate on the role of NGOs involved in the scandal will be put on the agenda in Strasbourg next week.
EPP leader Weber said: “The socialists rejected it and it was an open question for me: why don’t we discuss it?” Socialist officials in turn rejected this version of events, saying the party did not want to focus the entire debate solely on NGOs.
Asked whether the EPP had recently launched a more aggressive attack on the Socialists over the Katargate scandal, which has so far only focused on S&D lawmakers, Weber replied: “We don’t go on the attack; I want to clear things up.”
A fight erupted on social media from a closed-door meeting on the sixth floor of the Paul Henry Spock building on Wednesday evening, with the S&D accusing the EPP of not the truth About pushing for an NGO debate.
Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.