04 May 2011

Timeline of Mep Corruption Scandal

A timeline of the recent MEP scandal, first disclosed by The Sunday Times, can be found below. For more information on individual events, stories can be found on this site as well as Euractiv.com.

Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament, Annex I, Article 2: the Members of the European Parliament shall refrain from accepting any … gift or benefit in the performance of their duties;

The aforementioned EP rule has corresponding provisions within national laws regarding incompatibilities and conflicts of interest, as well as within the Criminal Codes of EU Member States (corruption offenses, e.g. bribery or influence-peddling);

· March 20th, 2011: The Sunday Times publishes an article announcing that 3 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been caught agreeing to accept secret payments to alter European laws, following an undercover investigation by its reporters. According to the newspaper, this will trigger one of the biggest scandals in the parliament’s 53-year history;

· The 3 MEPs were: 1) Adrian Severin, Vice-President of the Socialist group in the EP and the former Romanian Deputy Prime Minister; 2) Zoran Thaler, member of the Socialist group in the EP and the former Slovenian Foreign Minister; 3) Ernst Strasser, member of the EPP Group in the EP and the former Interior Minister in Austria;

· The 3 MEPs agreed to put forward amendments to European laws at the request of several lobbyists, just as the lobbyists had written them. In return, the MEPs agreed to be paid with a yearly salary of €100,000 or with a consultancy fee (they even issued invoices or asked that money be routed through private companies, avoiding the disclosure of such an income). The “lobbyists” were undercover Sunday Times journalists;

· A few hours after, the newspaper published the article and posted video and audio recordings of the 3 MEPs negotiating and accepting the money for amendments on its website. The Austrian vice-chancellor and president of the Austrian People’s Party, Mr. Josef Proll, issued a statement where he apologized to the voters for Ernst Strasser’s unacceptable conduct and asked the MEP to immediately resign from the EP and to leave political life for good. Ernst Strasser submitted his resignation and left the party.

· March 21st, 2011: Martin Schulz, leader of the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats group in the EP, asked Adrian Severin and Zoran Thaler to meet him in Brussels following the allegations published by the Sunday Times. Furthermore, Hannes Swoboda, Vice-President of the European socialist group in the EP, added that, after the resignation of the Austrian MEP, the expectations were clear;

· A few hours later, after the Socialist leaders’ statements during a press conference in Ljubljana, Zoran Thaler announced that he resigned from his position at the European Parliament, consenting to a thorough investigation of the circumstances of his involvement in the corruption scandal triggered by the Sunday Times’ investigation;

· Anti-corruption prosecutors in Bucharest announced that they had started criminal investigations for alleged corruption offenses committed by the Romanian MEP, Adrian Severin;

· Jerzy Buzek, the President of the European Parliament, issued a press release, expressing his disappointment and sadness by the news. Corruption cannot and will not be tolerated in the European Parliament. If the facts reported are proven, this type of behavior is a serious breach of the citizens’ trust. The EP has to react in a very serious way, stated the president of the EP.

· March 22nd, 2011: Adrian Severin emphasized during a morning press conference in Bucharest that, unlike his 2 colleagues, he would not resign from his position as Member of the European Parliament. In the meantime, the European Anti-Fraud Office announced that it had started an investigation concerning the 3 MEPs accused of corruption offenses and sealed their offices in the parliament;

· Adrian Severin met Martin Schultz in the evening in Brussels, stubbornly refusing to resign. However, under Socialist group pressure, which threatened him with exclusion from the group and demanded his resignation from the European Parliament, he agreed to leave the group and to become a non-affiliated MEP.

· March 24th, 2011: Adrian Severin was booed at the first session of the European Parliament since the bribery scandal erupted. When the EP President opened the session with this topic and announced that Severin decided not to resign as an MEP, he was booed by his MEP colleagues, especially the Socialists;

· Commenting on Adrian Severin’s repeated refusals to resign from the EP and on his defiance in front of calls by his colleagues and the Romanian media, The Economist notes that such stubbornness is typical in Romanian politics, where the media delights in savaging corrupt politicians, but rarely to any end. Resignations on corruption charges are virtually unknown in Romania, and bribery scandals are so common that they rarely make international news;

· MEP Monica Macovei, a widely praised anti-corruption campaigner and political figure in Romania, a former Minister of Justice, stated in an EUobserver interview that the European Parliament must substantially overhaul its rules following this corruption scandal. MEPs have five years in the European parliament to legislate for EU citizens. It’s a full-time job and I don’t see why they should have another one in parallel.

· March 25th, 2011: The pressure on Adrian Severin to resign from the EP mounts. Even the Romanian Social Democrats, a post-communist party habitually keen on hindering any anti-corruption efforts in Romania, started procedures of expelling Severin from the party.

· March 27th, 2011: The Sunday Times disclosed the name of a fourth MEP, recorded during the newspaper’s undercover investigation, who negotiated the altering of European laws in exchange for an alleged position within an advisory board of a fake company or payment, as the reporters made clear during the discussions. According to the Sunday Times, the name of the fourth MEP was Pablo Zalba Bidegain, shadow rapporteur responsible for the Investor Compensation Schemes (ICS) directive — a proposed new law protecting investors who lose money.

· March 28th, 2011 : Adrian Severin resigns from the Social Democrat Party. Nevertheless, even today he continues to deny any wrongdoings and to consequently claim there are no reasons for him to leave the European Parliament.