The efforts of lobby of Qatar in Brussels are, once again, at the center of a controversy involving a lack of transparency and European Union officials — in this case, the general director of Mobility and Transport, Henrik Hololei, who, according to the Politicaltraveled at least six times in business class on Qatar Airways at the invitation of the authorities of that Arab State, during the period in which Brussels and Doha were negotiating an aviation agreement.
The facts point to a clear situation of conflict of interests, but spokespersons for the community executive guarantee that this is not the case: in a first reaction to the news, and in response to the insistent questions from journalists, this Monday, different persons in charge of the Communication service insisted there is nothing irregular about the trips paid by Qatar to the general director of Mobility and Transport, “who was not part of the negotiation team” of the aviation agreement that opened the doors of the largest airports in the EU to Qatari airlines.
According to spokespersons, an internal analysis of the case reported by the Political concluded that there was no conflict of interest or any other violation of the European Commission’s rules of ethics and transparency. Surprisingly, this “analysis” was made by the Director General of Transport himself, who, taking into account the “context” of his trip to Doha, considered that there was no impediment to accepting the “invitation” to travel on Qatar Airways.
“According to the rules, it is up to department heads to assess the existence of a potential conflict of interest in a given mission, which explains why, in this specific case, it was the individual who carried out the analysis. This procedure was complied with, and, in the light of the available elements, the director-general concluded that there was no conflict of interest”, explained, with the utmost naturalness, one of the spokespersons for the Commission, adding that, “in case of doubt” , the political hierarchy could have been consulted.
The case raised doubts ombudsman Commissioner, Emily O’Reilly, who investigates the different types of cases of maladministration in the European institutions, and who has already submitted a formal request for clarification to the European Commission, which now has until June to provide all the requested elements ( for example, all missions subsidized by third parties and their authorization, as well as all meetings or conferences held in third countries and not declared in the transparency register).
“In the context of the ongoing corruption scandal involving current and former MEPs and third countries, the role of interest groups and the way in which they seek to influence EU leaders is coming under renewed scrutiny. (…) To maintain a high level of public confidence, I have already stressed the need for strong ethical rules and strong transparency in interactions between EU officials and representatives of these interest groups”, recalled O’Reilly, in a letter addressed to to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
Despite the facts described in the news of the Political do not constitute crimes — contrary to the process known for Qatargatewhich led to the arrest of several MEPs and employees of the European Parliament, accused of corruption and money laundering — the ombudsman understands that the payment of travel to the highest official of the Directorate-General for Transport by the Government of Qatar “raises legitimate concerns surrounding possible undue influence on EU decision-making in this area”.