Qatargate: Time to close the door on repressive regime lobbying

By refusing to adopt rules to detect and prevent repressive regime lobbying, the EU institutions, including the European Parliament, have opened the door to bribery scandals and manipulation of decision-making, Brussels based lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory believes.

EU lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) has slammed the rules and institutions of the European Union which paved the way for the latest lobbying scandal. The scandal saw Belgian police arrest 5 people (including Vice President of the European Parliament Eva Kaili), suspected of being bribed by the Qatar regime in order to play down the country’s human rights violations, on Saturday. 

The outline of the scandal is no surprise: CEO has investigated repressive regime lobbying in the Belgian capital for over a decade and uncovered severe negligence on the part of the EU institutions and European politicians. Serious flaws in the current transparency and ethics rules have allowed for scandals like this to happen, and demands from civil society organisations to rectify them have been dismissed. 

In recent months, the energy crisis may have aggravated the problem. The European Union and a number of member state governments have clearly courted the Qatari regime to secure higher import of gas and oil in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is just another stark reminder that the EU’s reliance on gas is not just a disaster for the climate and energy bills, but can lead the EU to support repressive regimes directly or indirectly. 

 

Olivier Hoedeman, Coordinator for Corporate Europe Observatory, said:

“This horrific unfolding bribery scandal is a product of years of negligence which have come back to haunt EU institutions. We have called for an effective defence against repressive regime lobbying for many years, but our demands have either been ignored or been poorly implemented. 

“Can you imagine if we had all had access to an overview of who lobbyists are and who they meet with in the European Parliament? And better still if we had rules that would prevent repressive regime lobbyists from walking the corridors of the institutions unhindered? These proposals have been around for a while, but they have not been listened to.

“This scandal may just be the tip of the iceberg - we don’t know its full extent yet. But we do know that enough is enough. Earlier this year a ban was imposed on dodgy Russian lobbyists way too late. Today, Qatar is in focus. These are both wake-up calls. It’s not good enough to take reactive measures after yet another scandal; we need a credible over-all design to prevent repressive regime interference in the EU’s democratic decision-making. ” 

ENDS

Notes to the editor:
Corporate Europe Observatory is seeking support from other organisations and from the European Parliament to implement long overdue reforms. They include mandatory registration of meetings between all MEPs and lobbyists, bans on repressive regime lobbying, a reform of the current lobby register so that it becomes legally-binding, not least when it comes to lobbying the European Parliament. Also, the rules for current exemption for certain categories of repressive regime lobbyists needs to be tightened to defend decision-making from such interference and the appropriate powers must be secured to monitor and pro-actively investigate violations of the rules.

1. Corporate Europe Observatory’s first report on repressive regime lobbying

2. Case study re Qatar in a report on page 53.

3.Other case studies with relevant context:

Report on the United Arab Emirates lobbying the EU

Saudi Arabia lobbying the EU 

Qatar Revolving door scandal

4. Sourcing LNG from Qatar is mentioned twice in the European Commission's REPowerEU plan on getting off Russian gas, while German energy firm RWE has just signed a deal to secure 2 million tonnes of LNG from Qatar annually, starting in 2026, facilitated by the German government.

5. This is not the first corruption scandal involving a repressive regime that the EU hopes to source more gas from. Between 2012-2014 the Azerbaijan regime channelled billions of dollars through offshore companies to launder money and pay for bribes, including towards many figures involved in the Italy-Azerbaijan mega-pipeline, the 'Southern Gas Corridor', which they eventually had approved. European Parliament members were again involved in whitewashing a repressive regime’s image in the face of election rigging and human rights abuses as part of Azerbaijan’s ‘caviar diplomacy’.