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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen refused to answer questions about her Vice President Margaritis Schinas’ relationship with Qatar during a press briefing on Monday, sparking fury from the Brussels press seeking answers to the biggest corruption scandal to hit the EU in years.
The Greek commissioner represented the EU at the World Cup opening ceremony last month and has come under fire from MEPs for his tweets in recent months praising Qatar’s labor reforms.
Asked about the Commission’s response to the Qatar corruption scandal that has ravaged the European Parliament, and in particular about Schinas’ position, von der Leyen remained silent on the Greek commissioner.
European Commission Deputy Spokesperson Dana Spinant’s decision to shut down questions from reporters prompted a furious reaction from reporters in the room, who called for more answers.
“You haven’t answered a single question,” shouted a reporter as Spinant attempted to end a session with reporters. “That’s not the way to hold a press conference here,” Spinant replied through a chorus of protests.
Although von der Leyen answered further questions about the scandal, she did not respond to questions from reporters about the circumstances surrounding Schinas’ visit to Qatar.
Instead, she pointed to a proposal for a new ethics body to scrutinize all EU institutions – something she committed to more than three years ago, but which has gained little traction. popularity within major institutions.
Referring to the European Commission’s Transparency Register, a database that lists representatives who carry out activities to influence EU policy and decision-making, she said: “We have one with very strict rules. clear internally at the European Commission. There, I think it is time to discuss whether we could not establish this generally for all EU institutions.”
Von der Leyen first committed to creating such a body in her mission letter to Commissioner Věra Jourová at the start of her term as Commission President in December 2019.
But more than three years later, there has been little progress.
Jourová told POLITICO earlier this month that the proposal would likely be a “thin layer”, consisting of an “advisory committee” without the ability to investigate or enforce the rules in EU institutions – a proposal that will probably not appeal to transparency activists.
Asked about the status of the proposal on Monday, von der Leyen replied: “Jourová is currently discussing the way forward. For us, it is very important to have not only strict rules, but also the same rules covering all EU institutions and not allowing any exemptions.”
While von der Leyen dodged a question about Schinas, a European Commission spokesperson defended the commissioner’s presence in Qatar.
“As Vice-President responsible for sport, European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas was invited to the opening match of the 2022 World Cup with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and IOC President Thomas Bach who were also present,” they said.
The spokesperson also noted that the Commission’s assessment of labor reforms in Qatar “accurately reflected the reports of the ILO (International Labor Organisation)”, adding that Schinas started his visit to Qatar with a specific briefing. of the representative of the ILO.
Schinas also spearheaded a decision by the European Commission to recommend the lifting of visa requirements for Qatar and Kuwait in April, which would mean that Qataris would no longer need a visa when they travel within the EU for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. whether for professional, tourist or family purposes.
The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, in Strasbourg, confirmed that the proposal to grant visa exemption to Qatari citizens was coming back to committee.
Ali Walker and Nicolas Camut contributed reporting.