From COVID vaccines, through Uber Files, to Qatar Gate: EU scandals in a nutshell

Scandals surrounding the EU are pushing public opinion to call for greater transparency when dealing with EU funds and UE-funded personnel. The most recent ‘Qatar Gate’ concerning the European Parliament Vice-President Eva Kaili shows how corrupt can a body become without proper checks and audits. Here’s a small recap of the recent EU irregularities.

COVID-19 vaccine procurement

One of the biggest scandals of the current term of the European Commission is the procurement of vaccines against COVID-19. The contracts were negotiated by the EC on behalf of the member states.

In April 2021, the US newspaper The New York Times was the first to report that EC head, Ursula von der Leyen, had negotiated via instant messaging the purchase of 1.8 billion doses with Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla. The contents of these conversations were requested by journalists and MEP Sophie in't Veld.

However, EC deputy commissioner Viera Jurova said in response that communications that are brief are not archived and do not fall under the EU’s transparency rules on access to documents. Nevertheless, the lack of transparency around von der Leyen’s ‘correspondence’ sparked outrage among MEPs and civil society organisations, who have criticised the Commission for trying to avoid accountability.

The case is currently being investigated by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, but it has declined to reveal details or when it may be concluded. Irregularities in the purchase of vaccines have also been pointed out to the Commission by the European Court of Auditors.

Uber Files

The Uber Files scandal was first reported in the Guardian. The British newspaper revealed 124,000 documents from 2013-2017. The files show “ethically questionable practices” carried out by Uber's management.

Leaked documents reveal Uber’s alleged lawbreaking and unethical practices

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The documents lay out how Uber tried to strengthen its position by lobbying politicians, business people and the media. Among the documents revealed is an exchange of messages between Uber’s former head and current French President Emmanuel Macron, who secretly helped the company in France when he was the economy minister, allowing Uber frequent and direct access to him and his associates. The Guardian reported that Macron went to extraordinary lengths to help Uber and even told the company that he had brokered a secret “deal” with his opponents in the French cabinet.

Uber Files reveal that the company held undisclosed meetings with the European Commission and that former European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes secretly lobbied on Uber’s behalf.

Judges, commissioners, politicians

In December 2021, the French daily Libération reported on influence peddling and other fraudulent practices allegedly committed by judges of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), European Commission officials and European People's Party (EPP) politicians.

CJEU judges, EC officials and EPP politicians traded in influence: French daily

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Between 2010 and 2018, the politicians were alleged to have attended meetings that were illegally financed with public funds. The organisers of these meetings were allegedly the convicted fraudster former auditor at the European Court of Auditors Karel Pinxten and Brussels lobbyists.

Such meetings were attended by, among others, former EC head Jean-Claude Juncker, former EC vice-president Jyrki Katainen and current EU commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn. According to the daily, the current head of the European Council Charles Michel was also allegedly influenced by lobbyists.

“Libération” also revealed that the EC and the authorities of several countries had pressured the European Anti-Fraud Office not to investigate the case. Important positions in this office have recently been taken up by people linked to the EPP.

In December 2021 the daily also accused the President of the European Court of Auditors Klaus-Heiner Lehne of embezzling public funds.

‘Qatar Gate’

Calls for greater transparency intensified once again after the corruption scandal of EP vice-president Eva Kaila and EP assistants.

The European Parliament voted on Tuesday to strip Eva Kaili of her role as Vice-President of the assembly after she and others were charged for allegedly receiving cash and gifts from Qatar in return for influencing decisions regarding Qatar’s interests.

On Sunday, she was detained by a Belgian court decision. The charges against her and three others are corruption, involvement in a criminal group and money laundering.