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3 Mar, 2023 09:27

EU commission tightens ‘hospitality’ rules after scandals

The overhaul comes after a senior official was accused of taking free Qatar Airways flights
EU commission tightens ‘hospitality’ rules after scandals

The EU’s top executive body is changing its regulations on foreign trips after a department chief was accused of taking free flights with Qatar’s national airline. The move comes after the European Parliament was recently rocked by a major corruption scandal involving one of its vice-presidents.

“The European Commission is in the process of tightening the rules concerning hospitality offered by an external event organizer to cover the mission costs of its staff members,” a spokesperson said on Thursday, as quoted by Politico.

“Accepting such hospitality will be restricted to major international commitments [including] the UN, the G7 and the G20, and to hospitality offered by member state authorities in the context of official visits within the EU.” 

Politico reported on Monday that Henrik Hololei, the director general of the commission’s transport department, flew business class for free on Qatar Airways nine times between 2015 and 2021. Citing documents obtained through a freedom of information request, the outlet said that four of the trips were paid for by the Qatari government or a group with ties to the Gulf state. Six of the flights were said to have taken place during negotiations over a trade agreement.

The commission had initially told Politico that Hololei’s flights were “authorized and conducted in accordance with the applicable rules.” 

In December, Belgian police arrested Greek MEP Eva Kaili, an EU Parliament vice-president at the time, on charges of accepting bribes from Qatar. Kaili, who denied any wrongdoing, was stripped of the title.

Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former MEP from Italy, was also charged in the same case. He struck a plea deal and admitted to taking bribes from Qatar and Morocco, according to his lawyer, Laurent Kennes.

The charges against Kaili were brought during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The Gulf state's mission to the EU denied that its authorities were involved in corruption, arguing that the allegations were based on “preconceived prejudices.” Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita claimed in January that his country was also the target of “media attacks” aimed at damaging its ties to the European bloc.