EU commission tightens ‘hospitality’ rules

The overhaul comes after a senior official was accused of taking free Qatar Airways flights

The EU’s top executive body is changing its regulations for foreign trips after a department chief was accused of accepting free flights on Qatar’s national airline. The decision comes after the European Parliament was rocked by a major corruption scandal in recent months.

“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 magazine 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.

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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 Eva Kaili, a member of the European Parliament from Greece and one of the body’s 14 vice-presidents at the time, on charges of accepting bribes from Qatar. Kaili, who denied any wrongdoing, was stripped of the vice-presidency the same month.

Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former MEP from Italy, was 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 in the middle of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The Qatari 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 the target of “media attacks” aimed at damaging its ties to the European bloc.

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