EU transport chief quits for free Qatar flights – POLITICO
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BRUSSELS – A senior European Union official quits his job as transport policy chief, following POLITICO revelations that he accepted free flights on Qatar Airways while his team negotiated a major air deal with the EU. Gulf State.
Henrik Hololei, director general of the European Commission’s transport department, has been the subject of an internal investigation into the thefts and whether he was right to clear himself of any conflict of interest.
On Wednesday, POLITICO revealed that Hololei will leave his post as Director General of the Department of Transport, known in the Brussels lexicon as DG MOVE, and will become a political adviser without management responsibility at DG INTPA, the Commission service responsible for international partnerships.
A Commission spokesperson later confirmed to reporters that Hololei would take up his new post on April 1.
Hololei himself announced his job change in an email to staff. “Dear friends and colleagues,” Hololei wrote. “I wanted to let you know myself that Friday will be my last day in DG MOVE. I’m sure you’ve seen the recent media coverage of my participation in international conferences.
“It has become a distraction and prevents DG MOVE from moving forward on the files that are so important for the safer, more sustainable, smarter and more resilient transport system that Europe needs and deserves”, did he declare. “I asked to be transferred to another position, which I will occupy in DG INTPA.”
POLITICO reported a month ago that Hololei flew business class for free on Qatar Airways nine times between 2015 and 2021, according to details obtained through Freedom of Information requests. Six of the free flights took place while the market access agreement between the EU and Doha was being drawn up, and four of them were paid for by the Qatari government or a group with links with Qatar.
The immediate revelations sparked a firestorm of criticism, calls for an investigation and demands to overhaul the rules. The Commission initially insisted that Hololei had not broken any rules, but then decided to tighten those same rules to ensure that his behavior could not be repeated in the future. An internal investigation is underway into the thefts, after officials confirmed that Hololei himself was the person who approved the ethical question of whether they posed a conflict of interest.
In recent days, POLITICO has reported calls within the Commission for Hololei to step down.
The episode comes at a very sensitive time for the EU. Brussels institutions are already battling to salvage their reputations amid a corruption scandal involving allegations that Qatar and other foreign governments paid MEPs and others to bid for the European Parliament.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged in light of the so-called Qatargate scandal to crack down on corruption, backing the idea of an ethics watchdog that would be able to investigate and penalize wrongdoing in all EU institutions.
While the Parliament is reforming itself to avoid future corruption problems, the EU Commission and Council were not involved in the scandal and refrained from announcing internal changes as a result.
But the Hololei case, which involved a senior official closely involved in a major transport deal crucial to the Gulf state, widened the scope of scrutiny to include the European Commission, which is tasked with proposing EU legislation.