MEPs voted on Tuesday to suspend Greek MEP Eva Kaili, a member of the European Social Democratic Group S&D, as Vice-President of the European Parliament, following her involvement in a corruption investigation allegedly involving World Cup host Qatar. Reports suggest she will keep her role as MEP, for now.
Kaili, who served as one of the 14 Vice-Presidents of Parliament since this year, had her term ended on Tuesday morning, said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola. On Tuesday, over two-thirds of MEPs voted in favour of her removal, making Kaili's suspension permanent.
MEPs voted overwhelmingly to suspend Eva Kaili from her duties as Vice President of the European Parliament, with 625 voting in favour, one against and two abstentions, representing a double majority of two-thirds of the votes cast and a majority of Members composing the Parliament.
"No tolerance for corruption. We need real change: greater transparency, greater accountability," co-leader of the Greens/EFA and Belgian MEP Phillipe Lamberts commended the vote on social media. Greens/EFA have been the only group in the parliament who have supported the establishment of an ethics committee.
At a press conference on Monday, European Commission President von der Leyen said that the Commission already in March proposed the establishment of such a committee for all EU institutions. It would be a strong body and apply the same rules without any exceptions for the institutions.
The vote follows new raids by the Belgian police on Monday afternoon, including one on a European parliamentary office. In a statement, the Federal Prosecutors Office also said that it "froze" the IT resources of ten parliamentary staff members "to prevent the disappearance of data that could be important for the investigation."
Since the beginning of the operations on Friday, a total of 20 searches have been carried out, including 19 in private homes and one in the offices of the European Parliament, the Belgian investigators said on Monday.
These searches have led to spectacular sums of money seized, according to the Federal Public Prosecutor: "€600,000 in the home of one of the suspects, several hundred thousand euros in a suitcase in a Brussels hotel room and about €150,000 in an apartment belonging to a Member of the European Parliament."
In the meantime, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola stated that the European Parliament and European democracy are "under attack," at the opening of the session in Strasbourg in a strongly-worded speech.
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In addition to the vote to end the term of office of Kaili, MEPs have also agreed to hold a debate at 16:30 on Tuesday to address the suspicions of corruption from Qatar and the broader need for transparency and accountability in the European institutions, to be followed by the vote on a resolution.
In light of the investigations, MEPs also voted to send the report on visa exemptions for Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Ecuador back to the Civil Liberties Committee for further discussion, rather than to start negotiations, to "ensure this process has not been influenced by corruption."
"We also have to make sure that any attempt to attack our democracy has consequences. For now, we will not proceed towards visa liberalisation for Qatar," EP rapporteur Erik Marquardt said in a statement on Monday. "We need to review the rules in the European Parliament and how these are implemented. There must be strict consequences for those who bribed and for those who have been bribed."
So far, the four people arrested – including Kaili – have been charged with corruption and money laundering.