Wednesday, February 28, 2024

‘Friends of Qatar’ in the European Parliament flee in disarray

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The spokesmen for the Government of Qatar in Brussels say that they do not need to pay members of the European Parliament to convince them of anything, but in light of the findings of the Belgian Justice, many of their friends have felt the need to clarify that everything good What they have said about the emirate they have said it for free. And, for now, they have fled in disarray.

Since Tuesday, the Friends of Qatar in the European Union group, made up of thirteen MEPs and chaired by José Ramón Bauzá only exists on the website of the Qatar embassy in Brussels. The alliance has been suspended “until the bottom of the matter is reached,” Bauzá announced the night before last. Actually, the website of the Qatari embassy is the only place where the existence of such a group of friends is recorded because these alliances are not part of the official activities of the European Parliament.

Former Italian MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri, suspected of working for Rabat

Qatargate has wrapped a thick halo of suspicion around these unofficial activities of MEPs, which completely escape the Parliament’s radar and which some voices from inside and outside the institution have been calling for reform for years. At the moment there is no proof that the members of this group are involved in any illegal activity but there are beginning to be suspicions about the activities of Morocco’s friends in past legislatures. 

Pier Antonio Panzeri, the former Italian MEP arrested in Friday’s macro-raid in Brussels, is being investigated not only for his role in an alleged corruption scheme at the service of Qatar in the European Parliament but also related to Morocco, according to published information. in the last few hours by various Italian and Belgian media. The Belgian Prosecutor’s Office has not confirmed the information but the newspaper De Standaard, among other media, has been able to confirm it from sources close to the case. At the moment, no evidence of payments from Rabat has been found, but the events predate the bribes from Qatar, according to this information. 

The newspaper Le Soir, for its part, talks about expensive gifts and perks that the politician’s wife and daughter would enjoy. Both were arrested on Friday in Italy. Panzeri was a deputy between 2005 and 2019, a time in which he held various positions related to foreign policy: he was in charge of the delegation for relations with the Maghreb, chaired the human rights subcommittee and the chamber and, according to in the newspaper archives of various Moroccan media, he also belonged to and even presided over the group of friends of Morocco in the European Parliament years ago.

Bauzá: “I have never received, nor have they even offered me, not a single euro for defending absolutely nothing”

Although there is nothing written about it, it is expected that the MEPs who participate in these alliances are transparent about it (they must reflect their membership in the declaration of interests on their website, but nobody verifies the data) and that they do not interfere with official bodies. of the Eurochamber. Thus, when MEPs travel abroad as part of “groups of friends” they do not do so officially or speak on behalf of Parliament, sources from the institution explain, but this is a nuance that often escapes the local press in the countries that they are going to visit, that treats their statements, which may well be contrary to the line of the chamber, as if they were official positions.

The practice is more complicated than the theory and in the past there have been situations in which groups of friends have interfered with the visits of official delegations or electoral observation missions. There are no official lists, but in a document from the last legislature he identified friendship groups with some 40 countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Kurdistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Vietnam and, among others, Azerbaijan, the instigator of a bribery scheme detected a few years ago in the Council of Europe, an institution outside the EU.

The Friends of Qatar group now only exists on the website of the embassy of the emirate in Brussels

The Friends of Qatar group now only exists on the website of the embassy of the emirate in Brussels.

When Qatargate exploded, the almost loving words of many deputies about the emirate, starting with those of Eva Kaili and Marc Tarabella, were covered by a shadow of suspicion. Bauzá, who has actively defended the advances in labor matters in the emirate, came up against the accusations that were circulating on the networks. “I have never received, they have not even offered me, not a single euro for defending absolutely nothing,” the former Balearic president tweeted.

Gomes: “If Qatar and Morocco pay for networks of ‘friends’ in the European Parliament, surely they will also do so in other parliaments”

A former MEP who prefers not to be named remembers well how certain diplomatic delegations operated, generally from undemocratic countries, and their interest in influencing the institution’s resolutions on foreign policy issues, despite their null powers in the matter. 

“They cared a lot about emergency resolutions, it was even ridiculous,” they recall. But the interest of the politics in getting a positive statement “from the EU” is evident. “These countries found in the groups of friends a formula to get closer to deputies who had anything from mere sympathy to those countries to perhaps something more,” these sources affirm. “They are lobbies, that’s what they are.”

The Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes, a socialist, has accused Panzeri of being in the pay of Rabat “The discovery will not be limited to payments from Qatar, Morocco should have financed Antonio Panzei a long time ago, it always sought to frustrate the aspirations of Western Sahara and I had many confrontations with him on this issue,” Gomes tweeted. “If Qatar and Morocco pay for networks of ‘friends’ in the European Parliament, surely they will also do so in other parliaments, including ours,” ventures the MEP.

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