Dried sausage, pretzels, wine, and other diplomatic baubles among 142 gifts received by Metsola

Roberta Metsola declares 142 gifts in EP register, missing deadline by just one week

It might be the most powerful, and glamorous of European Parliament jobs. But the gifts received by European Parliament president Roberta Metsola are a bit… meh.

Dried sausage, pretzels, wine, chocolates, some champagne… all welcome perishables to be shared with staff at the Brussels cabinet. But among the 142 gifts declared in one fell swoop by Metsola, the value of the tawdry baubles, mementos and trinkets from diplomats and visitors fail to elicit anything of remark.

Except that in her eleventh-hour declaration, Metsola missed the deadline for MEPs to declare their gifts (for at least 125 in the list), showing how limited the EP's transparency rules are when it comes to the register rarely updated by MEPs.

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Metsola’s spokesperson has told Politico that the deadline for MEPs did not apply to the Nationalist MEP by “custom” – as the EP president – and argued that the declarations broke with years of secrecy by former presidents. Metsola received all the gifts she declared since becoming president in January 2022.

Former MEP Michiel van Hulten, now the director of Transparency International EU, was less than impressed: “This shows the system is broken… You can’t operate an ethics system on the basis of unwritten rules. It’s good that she’s now done this, but there’s no prize for sticking to the rules.”

Metsola is currently busy picking up the pieces from the Qatargate scandal that embroiled four MEPs, chiefly the former socialist vice-president Eva Kaili, in a Brussels police investigation into allegations that they received cash from Qatar and Morocco governments to play up their human rights records in public for a.

“When a president receives a gift, it is not in my capacity as a member, but as the Parliament,” Metsola told Politico. After the so-called Qatargate corruption investigation began, “the scenario was different, which means I’m going to list everything which would anyway have been declared internally,” she said.

Terry Reintke, co-president of the Greens group, said Metsola’s disclosures showed the need for an independent EU ethics body based outside the Parliament. “Transparency should apply to all so it’s good that she’s making it public now… I think that it also shows that we just need a much better enforcement of the rules and that we cannot leave everything up to internal scrutiny structures.”

Gifts Metsola received included a gold model tower from senior Moroccan politician Naam Mayara, a white dress with golden embroidery from Fawzia Zainal, speaker in the parliament of Bahrain, scarves, books, chocolates and wine, champagne, and from the Speaker of Malta, a commemorative stamp marking Maltese self-government and a silver filigree brooch. The only gift recorded as being over €150 in value was from the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister – an “icon & drawer with individually wrapped dates.” The plaque on the gift itself describes it as a “shield representing Expo 2020 logo.”

Under Parliament’s code of conduct for members, gifts should be disclosed at the latest by the end of the month following the month in which MEPs received them. For 125 of those gifts, Metsola’s declarations came after the deadline.

The gift rules covers “any” MEP representing Parliament in an official capacity, including the president. There is no written rule that explicitly states the president is exempt from following the procedure covering other MEPs.

Metsola has now announced 14 proposed reforms to the system to beef up the transparency rules for MEPs in the wake of Qatargate, including changes to make the gift register more visible on the Parliament’s website.

Pier Antonio Panzeri, the former Italian MEP behind the Qatargate corruption scandal has now agreed to tell all in a deal with Belgian prosecutors.

Panzeri, 67, was among four people detained last month in the European Parliament corruption investigation that has rocked the institution. The deal will see Panzeri receive a reduced sentence in exchange for information on the scandal.

MEPs in Strasbourg this week also expressed their continued anger, shame, and shock at the allegations of corruption in the unfolding Qatargate scandal, despite a poor attendance inside the European Parliament on Tuesday afternoon to discuss new developments in allegations of corruption and foreign interference.

MEPs gave contributions on creating an Qatargate committee to investigate the matter, making the EU Transparency Register fully mandatory, establishing an independent ethics body that would initiate investigations on possible conflicts of interest or “revolving door” cases for Commissioners, MEPs and staff; improving whistleblower rules and enforcing existing rules.

Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer said Qatargate now gave MEPs an opportunity to do implement a strict transparency register first proposed by the EC in 2016. “However in the previous legislature, this mandatory register was not imposed and replaced with a voluntary one. The EP president has a number of proposals, but the requirement of mandatory transparency is weaker than the 2016 proposal. We need to go much beyond that Commission proposal, and make it mandatory for every meeting, every MEP, and for all countries, because we are representing our citizens and have to be transparent on their behalf.”