European Parliament president Roberta Metsola on Thursday unveiled a 14-point plan to improve transparency in the institution after a graft scandal linked to Qatar.

She revealed her wide-ranging reform package during a meeting with the leaders of the nine political groups in the parliament, also known as the Conference of Presidents.

“We will strengthen integrity, independence and accountability in the European Parliament. Our aim is to move ahead fast. These immediate reforms are the first steps towards rebuilding trust in European decision-making, and the launch of a wider reform of the European Parliament,” Metsola said following the meeting.

The EP was rocked just before Christmas when Belgian authorities detained and  accused four people, including European Parliament vice president Eva Kaili, of "criminal organisation, corruption and money laundering".  

Both Kaili, a former TV newsreader in Greece, and Qatari officials deny any wrongdoing. Kaili has been stripped of her post. 

A series of searches at the homes and offices of politicians, lobbyists and parliamentary assistants turned up around €1.5 million in cash.

A Belgian judicial source said €600,000 were found at the home of MEP-turned-lobbyist Pier Panzeri, €150,000 in Kaili's flat and €750,000 in her father's hotel room.

Tighter rules on contacts with lobbyists

The 14 proposals, seen by Times of Malta, will tighten rules for MEPs on contacts with lobbyists and ban ex-MEPs from lobbying for two years after leaving office.

Another proposal will require any MEPs, assistants or civil servants to disclose who they are meeting when discussing ongoing legislative work. Currently, only rapporteurs or committee chairs are required to make such disclosures.

Metsola has also proposed the introduction of an “integrity” tab on the front page of the European Parliament website that will centralise information relating to the integrity of parliamentary work.

It will include information on sanctions, declarations of gifts, declarations of trips to third countries not paid for by the European Parliament, declarations of scheduled meetings, information from the Code of conduct and advisory committee and information and links to the Transparency Register.

The Transparency Register, she proposed, should be an obligation for participation in parliamentary hearings and other events for all lobbyists, NGOs and interest representatives.

Metsola proposed the enforcement of a ban on friendship groups with third countries. Any activities or meetings of any unofficial groupings of members that could result in confusion with official European Parliament Activities will be banned.

Third countries should interact with the Parliament through the Committee on Foreign Affairs, existing official Parliament delegations or other Committees as required, the planned reform says.

With regard to entrance to the European Parliament buildings, Metsola proposed that all persons entering the premises, including representatives of third countries, must be logged into the system, indicating the purpose of their visit. Guests with visitor badges must be accompanied at all times.

No permanent access to former MEPs

She suggested the removal of permanent access badges currently granted to former members of the European Parliament and their replacement with new daily access badges. Former members would have limited access and can no longer have the right to grant entry to anyone else.

According to the plan, the European Parliament will enforce mandatory training for all parliamentary assistants on financial rules, compliance, conduct, and whistleblowing, ensuring they are aware of all rules and systems to protect the integrity of the institution, themselves and the MEPs they work with.

Cooperation with judicial authorities

In an effort to boost the EP’s fight against corruption, Metsola said the European Parliament would reinforce its cooperation with member state judicial and law enforcement authorities to ensure that it is best able to respond and aid any investigations into alleged criminal activities by members or staff.

She also pledged to look into what protection these national judicial and law enforcement institutions can provide to the EP, particularly in respect of third-country attempts to influence the democratic process.

A spokesperson for Metsola said when contacted that there was full support for the proposals by the Conference of Presidents.

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