A transparent European Parliament

One should have nothing to hide as a representative of citizens. Any work done in Parliament is on behalf of the citizens we represent. We get paid by each and everyone of our tax money and must be accountable to all of the Union’s citizens

The European Parliament’s past month was undoubtedly the most difficult one in its history. Not because there weren’t any challenges in the past – especially ones that looked at the inferior treatment the only directly elected institution received in the European Union’s legal order, especially prior to the Lisbon Treaty. However, this time it was different. The topmost echelons of a stronger Parliament ended up being embroiled in a corruption scandal involving a rich and powerful third country.

A few of us in Parliament have been warning that a case like this could surface at any time for a long time. We do not possess any future-reading superpower. It was just surprising that with the existing setup and rules on Members of Parliament and lobbyists, similar cases were not flagged before.

European Union laws carry high stakes, as do resolutions on Member States and third countries. The heavy lobbying within and outside Parliament’s buildings is a testament to this. And it is for this reason that a number of us have been campaigning for stronger rules on transparency, revolving-doors and internal whistleblowing rules.

It is for these reasons that I commend and agree in their entirety, with the proposals made by the team working for President Metsola this week. Yet, I believe that they should have gone that extra mile further, specifically in ascertaining full transparency in the conduct of Members during and after our mandate.

At the end of September, I invited German Green MEP Daniel Freund to my podcast to specifically discuss this. I had first met Daniel during the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Back then, he worked at Transparency International, while I presided over the General Affairs Group that led the negotiations in Council on the Mandatory Transparency Register proposal of September 2016. Today we both sit in the European Parliament and also in the Constitutional Affairs Committee and together with some others we frequently voice our opinion against Parliament’s backroom deals and lack of transparency in the exercise of Members’ mandates.

As a Maltese Presidency we had put the Register as our priority in General Affairs and were committed to achieve the strongest mandate possible for a mandatory one that covered all European institutions. The usual suspect Member States and, to my surprise, Members of the European Parliament watered down the interinstitutional agreement to a voluntary one.

Metsola’s proposal asks for a mandatory register, which is commendable, however, falls short from stating that all meetings held by members or our staff are listed in the register. It limits listings to meetings that are related to the reports or resolutions the Member would be working on as a drafter or negotiator. This notwithstanding the fact that all Members would be voting on the actual text.

One should have nothing to hide as a representative of citizens. Any work done in Parliament is on behalf of the citizens we represent. We get paid by each and everyone of our tax money and must be accountable to all of the Union’s citizens. We are also not infallible and any mistakes done must also be acknowledged and explained before moving on.

Our message as a Parliament must be strong. Our European values are not for sale. No gifts,

monetary or otherwise, or future employment prospects from lobbyists, third countries or other organisations can ever buy our silence or our positions. It is for this reason that Metsola’s initial proposal should have been the strongest possible since a number of voices in different groups will undoubtedly still push for it to be watered down. It’s a sine qua non in game theory to start negotiations at the strongest possible position, if you believe in it, when you know that the tendency will be for some to oppose parts of it and try to water it down.

On the day of our vote on the Qatar resolution, the shock and sadness of a number of us in Plenary on the way a number of amendments on fundamental human and workers’ rights were voted out was palpable. We stood there in disbelief albeit being late for our flights on a Thursday afternoon. This must not be repeated and all measures to strengthen the rules must be taken.

On my end, as I have done from day one, I will continue publishing all my meetings in my transparency register in my website – not only detailing when I have met who and a brief summary of the discussion as I do today (which is not required by Parliament) but as for meetings from January 2023, I will also start publishing the full notes taken during meetings.

I do this as a firm believer in transparency. I have no problem in meeting everyone, as long as those meeting me or my team, have no problem that we publish the contents of our meetings. My meetings are not done on my behalf but on behalf of those I represent.