EU Parliament on its way for being more independent, integrated and accountable  

Politics - June 5, 2024

“The reforms we have put in place in the last months boost the integrity of Parliament’s systems, make decision-making more transparent and strengthen the Parliament as a whole. We want to consolidate trust with the European citizens and re-affirm the European Parliament as an open institution. Next year we will return with a more modern and more efficient Parliament.” These were the words of the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, in reference to some measures that have been launched at European level in order to protect the integrity of the European Parliament and its members, closing loopholes and preventing interference in the work of the European Parliament. 

The plan for the transparency of MEPs’ activities and for combating corruption was presented by MEP President Metsola on 12th January 2023. The plan was presented to the Conference of Presidents, which is the body responsible for organising the work of the European parliament and is composed of the President of the Parliament and the chairmen of the political groups.

The plan presented in January is entitled ‘Strengthening integrity, independence and accountability – First Steps’ and includes 14 key points concerning a whole series of measures aimed at strengthening the transparency, accountability and integrity of the activities of MEPs and former MEPs. The proposal for this plan emerged above all in the wake of the so-called Qatargate scandal, which placed the European legislative body in a crisis situation regarding its functioning and control. 

The measures envisaged in the Plan are first steps and the perspective is to achieve a broader framework of reforms to be implemented in the medium and long term.

The 14 points provide for several innovations within the EU, and have been developed and updated over these long months. 

First of all, there is a suspension period for MEPs who have just ceased to hold office, which means that they may not engage in interest representation activities for a period of six months. At the end of this period, former MEPs will be able to register with the Transparency Register.

Moreover, an ‘integrity’ section has been introduced on the home page of the EP website, so that users can find more and clearer information about each MEP’s activities. In this section, information can be found on: sanctions; declarations of gifts; attendance at events not paid for by the EP; declarations of scheduled meetings; information on the EP Members’ Code of Conduct on Financial Interests and Conflicts of Interest and the Advisory Committee; information and a link to the Transparency Register.

Another pillar in the reform process of the Parliament and its members concerns the registration in the Transparency Register of the EU institutions. Registration in this register has become mandatory for representatives of interest groups or civil society who wish to participate in hearings and exchanges of opinion in parliamentary committees. Thanks to this register, the European Parliament will be able to find out and verify the organisations listed in the register and the information they report, also with regard to their links with third countries and funding flows.

In addition to this, an obligation will also be introduced for all Members, their accredited assistants and their staff to make public and easily accessible to the public scheduled meetings with diplomatic representatives of third countries and with representatives of third-party organisations, listed in the Transparency Register, relating to a European Parliament report or resolution in which the Members or their staff have an active role and an immediate influence on the development of the relevant dossier. This obligation always applies, with the exception of specific identified cases.

As far as relations with third countries are concerned, all activities or meetings of unofficial groupings of MEPs that could create confusion with the official activities of the European Parliament, such as, in particular, ‘friendship groups’ with third countries in which other Parliament bodies already act as interlocutors, will be prohibited. Third countries should interact with Parliament through the Foreign Affairs Committee, existing official Parliament delegations or other parliamentary committees.

There are also measures concerning the modalities of access to the European Parliament. Specifically, a new entry register is to be created. Thus, all persons, over the age of 18, who enter the premises of the European Parliament, including representatives of third countries, when entering the European Parliament buildings must provide information indicating the date, time and purpose of the visit. This obligation does not apply to all those who have a different access regime to the Parliament. In addition, guests wearing visiting badges shall always be accompanied by the person responsible for their access to the European Parliament’s premises.

Also, in this context, the permanent access badges, which until now were granted to former MEPs and former assistants or staff, are eliminated. These permanent badges are thus replaced by a specific daily access badge. Furthermore, former MEPs and former assistants or staff would no longer have the right to grant entry to anyone else.

With regard to the issue of conflict of interest, every Member must not find himself in such a situation and must take all necessary measures to resolve this conflict. Rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs will have to make a declaration on potential conflicts of interest. In addition, checks will be carried out to ensure that parliamentary assistants and staff also do not play a managerial role in organisations with any links to third countries or active in lobbying activities.

n terms of financial interests, it was proposed to increase and clarify the level of detail required in the declaration of Members’ financial interests by including more information on Members’ side jobs and outside activities and by providing for checks to ensure that the rules are correctly applied. MEPs are obliged to submit a detailed declaration of their financial interests to the President of the EP by the end of the first part-session following the European elections or, during the parliamentary term, within 30 days of the start of their mandate in the EP.

In order to reform parliament, it is also necessary to focus on training. Thus, it was decided that all MEPs should undergo regular training in the provisions concerning their integrity and independence. A training provided by the EU Parliament itself. At the same time, ad hoc training will also have to be provided to all accredited parliamentary assistants and EP officials. 

The role of the Code of Conduct Advisory Committee is to be strengthened, and the criteria for tabling motions for EP resolutions on urgent matters concerning the violation of human rights, democracy and the rule of law are to be tightened in order to avoid undue external influence.

On the other hand, cooperation between the EP and the national judicial and police authorities of the Member States will be strengthened. This is intended to ensure that Europe is able to provide faster and more effective responses to any investigation into alleged criminal activities of MEPs or EP staff.

Finally, initiatives are planned to strengthen cooperation in order to combat corruption. For this reason, the list of sanctionable activities of MEPs in the code of conduct will be revised. 

All these measures aim to modernise the way the European Parliament works, especially after the events that engulfed it a few months ago. The principles on which all these proposals are based are those of transparency, security and accountability. The overarching goals, on which work will necessarily have to continue in the future, are to make the EU Parliament a credible institution capable of developing and disseminating a more robust security culture that is able to counter any attempts at foreign interference, while protecting the interests of citizens, member states and the entire European Union.