By Laura Zornoza
Brussels, Jan 26 (EFE).- Roberta Metsola has just completed her first year at the helm of the European Parliament with the bloc facing multiple crises: the Russian invasion of Ukraine, an inflation crunch and a corruption scandal that has shaken the EP to the core.
Metsola spoke to Efe about the future of the bloc and the European Union’s response to the so-called ‘Qatargate’ scandal, which has so far led to several arrests, including the now former EP vice-president Eva Kaili, over allegations that the governments of Qatar and Morocco handed out large sums of cash to get the EU lawmakers to lobby on their behalf.
Q: Did you ever think before you got the post that you would run into such a challenge as ‘Qatargate’?
A: I think you never expect what you are going to deal with in a new post that has responsibilities such as managing a parliament of 704 colleagues. Nobody could have prepared us for war, but also for so many packages of sanctions, the admission of Moldova and Ukraine as candidate countries, an energy crisis and then a scandal that has involved the European Parliament with corruption allegations.
(There are) so many challenges that we are addressing day by day and I am glad to continue to have the support of all the colleagues in pushing through not only how we address the challenges, not only how we work on legislation that is important in the next few months on migration, on the Green Deal, on continued digital legislation, but also in order to engage in what I said when I was elected: the reform of this institution to make it more visible, more effective, more transparent, more modern and more open.
Q: You have pledged to launch a review of issues, trips and legislation that may have been influenced by the recent corruption case. What will this involve?
A: At the moment what we are taking is precautionary measures in the context of ongoing enforcement and judicial proceedings. We have cooperated since the first day with the authorities on any request that they have made to us and we are complying day by day.
So without speculating on different countries, but understanding that a lot is being said in the media, a lot is being said in various circles, this parliament is under an obligation to take precautionary measures, as we have. But I am also in discussion with other institutions, keeping in mind all security measures, all political incidents, etc.
Q: What measures have been taken?
A: So at the moment we have looked, for example, at all proposed visits and delegations or even committees that were planning to go to specific countries, in this case Qatar but also Morocco, excluding interparliamentary forums or authorities that are located in those countries.
But committees themselves have also said (…) we need to make sure that some time is given to see how the judicial and investigative proceedings go ahead before we take the decisions.
Q: A Spanish MEP was recently sanctioned for harassing three assistants. What systems will the EP put in place to protect vulnerable workers and facilitate staff members to report cases of harassment and corruption?
A: I have mandated the bureau and specifically the quaestors (MEPs who handle administrative issues) to come up with specific measures in order to address more systematic cases of harassment in the workplace, how you go about reporting such incidents, some sort of training. Some members, such as myself, have undergone training, which this parliament and the plenary have said should be mandatory.
Looking at the possibility to engage counselors, mediators, psychological training, psychiatric help within the medical service, all sorts of proposals are on the table to make sure that whenever you want, or you feel the need to transfer information in a confidential, secure manner, the procedures are as tight and as secure as possible.
Q: Spain is preparing to assume the presidency of the Council of the EU in the latter half of 2023. How do you see this stage for the country?
A: Spain has continued to show throughout the decades that it is an extremely leading country of the EU, both in its relations inside the union, with our Mediterranean partners, with our Latin American partners, so it is a presidency that I very much look forward to engaging with.
In fact, in June there will be a visit of all the group leaders which I will lead, where we will engage with all the ministers of the government in order to see how to take what will also be a very important legislative period of this mandate.
Why? Because let’s say twelve to six months before the European elections we will be closing up the most important files, whether it is to do with migration, with the environment, with industrial help, with looking at how to continue to address the energy crisis, all legislative instruments that are on the table and that will have to be concluded during the Spanish presidency.
Q. Are you planning on running for European parliamentary elections again?
A. Being president of the EP is an honor and a privilege and the responsibility of a lifetime. And I will work every day for the rest of my mandate in order to make sure that as many people as possible vote if we can continue the rising trend of participation in European elections. That is my main goal in every single member state. In my own member state, I will run for my seat, and I will once again run as I did in the past four elections to the European Parliament. That would be my focus, and my challenges keep me here quite busy. EFE