Scandal at European Parliament: President Metsola failed to declare sponsored trips

Scandal at European Parliament: President Metsola failed to declare sponsored trips
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola. Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck / Belga

The President of the European Parliament failed to officially declare within the mandated parliamentary deadline that she undertook several sponsored trips over the past year, Le Soir has reported.

On 11, 12, and 13 January this year, Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola filed forms affirming that she had undertaken up to five trips that were at least partially funded by third parties over the period from May to October 2022.

Under current parliamentary rules, MEPs are required to fill in the required paperwork "no later than the last day of the month following the last day" of any trip funded in whole or in part by a third party.

Metsola's trips include a visit to Israel on 22-24 May last year paid for by the Israeli State; a trip to Davos in May funded by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation; a trip to Copenhagen on 10 June sponsored by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation; and a trip to Beaune in October paid for by the Brotherhood of the Knights of Tastevin.

A spokesperson for the Maltese MEP further admitted to Le Soir that it is "maybe" the case that Metsola's ticket for the Champions League final in Paris on 28 May was paid for by UEFA. La Libre Belgique has also reported that Metsola similarly failed to declare a number of gifts within the required deadline, including champagne, a scarf, and a blue statuette of a sheep.

A bitter irony

In addition to further compounding the European Parliament's reputation for graft, the latest scandal is likely to cause the Maltese MEP significant personal embarrassment.

In an impassioned speech delivered shortly after the Qatargate corruption scandal broke last month, Metsola claimed that there will be "no impunity" for those who broke parliamentary rules, and affirmed that "malign actors, linked to autocratic third countries have allegedly weaponised NGOs, Unions, individuals, assistants and Members of the European Parliament in an effort to subdue our processes".

After being asked by Le Soir to justify the Maltese MEP's failure to formally declare her trips, Metsola's spokesperson claimed that parliamentary "protocol or security considerations" meant that "no Parliament President has ever done this".

The spokesperson also suggested that Metsola's decision to "comply with this rule" was made "to lead by example, for the sake of transparency".

In a subsequent interview with The Brussels Times, Metsola's Deputy Spokesman Antti Timonen added that only Metsola's accommodation was paid for by third parties during her visits to Israel, Davos, Copenhagen, and Beaune, and that the gifts she received were formally given to the Office of the President, rather to Metsola herself.

"While these things have never previously been declared by Parliament Presidents, President Metsola has chosen to do so in an unprecedented move to boost transparency and lead by positive example," Timonen said.

A spate of scandals

The latest affair involving Metsola is just the latest in a spate of similar scandals to have hit the European Parliament over the last few weeks.

On Monday, Belgian MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere (EPP) announced that he had undertaken six sponsored trips in 2021 and 2022. Just days earlier, two other Belgian MEPs, Marc Tarabella and Marie Arena (both S&D) both confessed to having failed to declare that official trips to Doha over the past couple of years were funded by the Qatari Government.

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In a recent interview with The Brussels Times, Transparency International EU Deputy Director Nick Aiossa refuted Arena's suggestion that her parliamentary assistant was to blame for failing to fill out the required forms properly.

"Those declarations are the sole personal responsibility of MEPs," Aiossa said. "She can't delegate that. She shouldn't be delegating that."

He added: "MEPs don't seem to care [about filling in the forms]. There's no oversight. No one's checking on them. That's part of the culture. Why would they care? At worst they'll get a slap on the wrist. If no one's watching, why do you think they would fill them out?"

This article has been updated to include comments from Metsola's Deputy Spokesman Antti Timonen.

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