Qatargate, the scandal involving PS politicians Marc Tarabella and Marie Arena, is not getting the attention it deserves in the Flemish media. Not because it would be juicy, or because the PS could be involved, but because the power of the European Parliament is terribly underestimated.
Too little is written in the Flemish press about Qatargate in the European Parliament. It is a fact and a (self) reproach. Pages full of articles appear daily in the French-language papers about the ‘liaisons dangereuses’, as Le Soir describes them, by European PS parliamentarians Marc Tarabella and Marie Arena.
Last Thursday, the number 389 received excessive attention. That’s how many phone contacts Arena had, according to legal documents, with Antonio Panzeri, one of the key people in the whole European case. Tarabella has already been suspended by the socialist group. Arena had to temporarily step aside. The European Parliament is also keen to lift Tarabella’s parliamentary immunity.
In the Flemish media, even in this news-lunch Christmas break, there are only sporadic news articles about the alleged missteps of the two PS MPs. And they are much more often in the second half of the paper than in the first.
The suitcase full of money
The reason for the lack of interest may be that two French speakers and no Flemish are involved in Qatargate. By the way: The Flemish Socialists in Vooruit distanced themselves remarkably quickly and remarkably strongly from their comrades in the Parti Socialiste. Chairman Conner Rousseau called them in Hum even ‘crap’ and ‘pipo’er’.
But that is not the main reason for the lukewarm interest in this affair. Kazakhgate with Armand De Decker or Samusocial with Yvan Mayeur were also about French-speaking politicians, but got a lot of airplay. The scene – the European Parliament – of this scandal is the reason it is so little reported.
The scant attention is a problem because this is one of the biggest scandals the European Parliament has ever seen. There are facts that would seem grotesque and unbelievable in a movie. The father of Greek MP Eva Kaili, who was caught red-handed with a suitcase full of money. The non-profit organization Fight Impunity, which turns out to be a cover for fraudulent business. Or the Moroccan spies, the expensive handbags and the envelopes with money.
But there is also the observation, under the creamy layer, that this bribery scandal has wide and deep ramifications in the socialist group in the European Parliament and the international trade union. It is remarkable that the Belgian court digs into it all, but it also does not seem to be a reason to pay much attention to it in the press.
The press should also zoom in on Qatargate more often due to the involvement of the Parti Socialiste. Not to make easy connections with the party’s ‘scandalous’ past, with Samusocial, Publifin or Agusta-Dassault. Not even to point out that the party chairmen Elio Di Rupo and Paul Magnette, no matter how clean they themselves are, cannot get rid of that smell of affairism.
This is because the French-speaking Socialists are the largest party in the seven-member federal coalition. The more this European scandal expands, the greater the chance that the PS will prove itself in other areas and therefore will continue to obstruct the federal government. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) or the party chairmen Sammy Mahdi (cd&v), Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) and Conner Rousseau (Vooruit) can continue to dream about and advocate a package of reforms for the labor market, pensions and taxation. If PS doesn’t want to, there will be little or nothing to do with Easter – the new deadline for a major federal deal.
In addition, the PS suffers from scandalitis in two parliaments. In the Walloon Parliament, Parliament President Jean-Claude Marcourt (PS) had to resign after a luxurious and useless trip to Dubai and lavish renovation costs at the Parliament building. PTB/PVDA will continue to tease the PS about this in all assemblies, which is why the desire for reforms in the PS may dwindle even more.
But the lack of copy on this corruption scandal is especially a big problem because the European Parliament is incredibly powerful. The Flemish press usually takes the position of the Flemish politicians towards this parliament, which – with few exceptions – is contemptuous and laughs at it.
This is not an exclusively Flemish or Belgian phenomenon. In most European countries, the unwieldy European Parliament with its opaque decision-making is despised. Parties in other Member States therefore send political novices there, who can then learn the trade completely anonymously.
In Belgium, the opposite happens. Politicians who are done playing on the national stage are given an exit job by their party. Or as Bart De Wever said in 2019 about his opponent Kris Peeters: “The Romans would have said: ‘Go home, fill your bath and open your veins, you are no longer needed.’ Now you will be sent to the European Parliament.”
Originally, the European Parliament certainly did not have much say in the European hierarchy, but those times are over. The 705 members of the European Parliament have long since ceased to populate a casual tent, as Professor Hendrik Vos often rightly points out.
The big turning point came in the 1990s with the Maastricht Treaty, which gave the European Parliament the right to make decisions. Since the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament has the power to amend and pass laws. The European Parliament now has the final say on all European legislation.
There are no concrete figures, but academics like Vos assume that 80 percent of our Belgian legislation is influenced in one way or another by European laws. For agriculture this influence is very direct, for other forces, such as culture or education, it is more indirect or subtle.
In principle, the European Parliament does not have much power over foreign policy. The European Parliament’s decisions on foreign policy were therefore never taken too seriously. They have a political meaning, but there are no real consequences or concrete rules attached to them.
Nevertheless, it seems that the Qataris and Moroccans had a lot of Euros at their disposal to influence precisely the so-called “nothings” in European decision-making. Eva Kaili and co. after all, would have received bags of money and fancy gifts to get the European Parliament to vote more favorably on these two countries through intervention in these decisions.
If these “powerless” decisions are worth so much money in the eyes of outsiders, does this not prove how powerful the European Parliament is? And surely about powers over which it has real power?
Europe is indeed a superstate, just like Annemie Turtelboom in her book Europe’s money writes. A superstate with a supranational parliament in every sense of the word, which the press should focus more on. Attention from the Fourth Estate can actually limit the power of shrewd lobbyists and reduce the appetite for bribery.