Von der Leyen’s Qatargate inquiry targets links to Avramopoulos
Are they really want to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? An email shows that the Commission launched an internal inquiry into Qatargate, giving officials just a half a day to respond.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen launched an urgent inquiry into her 26 commissioners’ links to former EU migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos, who has been caught up in spiraling corruption allegations about Qatari influence in Brussels.
The Commission is also asking Avramopoulos himself to explain how he complied with lobbying rules.
Avramopoulos, a former EU migration commissioner, was an honorary board member of the NGO Fight Impunity, which was established by former MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri — who is currently being held in jail on preliminary charges of corruption and money laundering. Avramopoulos admitted receiving a payment of €60,000 from Fight Impunity and has since resigned from his role on the NGO’s honorary board.
The scandal, which has seen MEP Eva Kaili also charged and stripped of her role as European Parliament vice president, has shaken the EU establishment and damaged the bloc’s credibility on ethical standards.
In an email apparently sent earlier on Wednesday to the “transparency and ethics contact points” in each of the Commissioners’ cabinets, an EU official asked whether members of the College of Commissioners or cabinet staffers had interacted with Avramopoulos or Fight Impunity (which it refers to as AITJ, based on the full name Association Against Impunity and for Transitional Justice) last year. Recipients were given only until mid-morning to reply.
“Has your member or Cabinet had any interaction (correspondence, meetings, contacts) with Former Commissioner Avramopoulos in the period 3 February 2021 and 1 December 2021 in his capacity of Honorary Board member of AITJ[?]” The official asked the same question about any communication with any other Fight Impunity representatives, or with Avramopoulos “in any other capacity” during the time period, “and if so, to inform us about the subject of this interaction.”
Jivka Petkova, the director of coordination and administration in von der Leyen’s top team, asked for answers to be submitted by 10:30 a.m. today.
EU Commission Deputy Chief Spokesperson Dana Spinant said: “We are sending [Avramopoulos] a letter today to ask him about how he met the conditions for the authorization we gave him for this post-mandate activity [at Fight Impunity].”
“We have been saying since the beginning that we are looking into meetings that took place between former Commissioner Avramopoulos and members of the College,” Spinant added, saying that the Commission does not comment on internal emails.
Avramopoulos said he is yet to receive the Commission’s letter but said that his role did not require any lobbying of Commissioners or EU officials.
Ia letter to the Commission sent earlier, Avramopoulos said that he not only he approves of the investigation process, but also asked for it to be intensified.
“As you might be aware, my EC-approved membership in the Honorary Board of the above mentioned organization has become a matter of political polemic, slander and speculation,” Avramopoulos wrote.
“I am confident that the conclusions the Commission will come to following a speedy verification of my actions’ full compliance with the decision’s terms will finally and unequivocally disassociate my name from practices and behavior which we all have had no knowledge or involvement whatsoever,” he added.
He said that when he asked for permission to join the board of Fight Impunity he told the Commission he would be the only board member to be remunerated with €5,000 per month before tax, because he would be involved in the “active promotion” of the NGO and that all the remuneration was properly declared to Greek tax authorities.
Avramopoulos met current migration chief Ylva Johansson and Cyprus’ commissioner Stella Kyriakides in November 2021, but Eric Mamer, the EU Commission’s chief spokesperson, said Wednesday that “in none of these meetings, from what we understand, was he representing the NGO.”
In late 2020, the Commission’s Independent Ethics Committee, which vets former commissioners’ activities after they leave office, suggested approving Avramopoulos’ role, and a few months later the Commission said in a report that it “did not see any legal or other impediments” to prevent him taking the role.
At the time he told the Commission his work for Fight Impunity would take place “without engaging in lobbying activities towards the European Commission.” As a former Commissioner he was barred from lobbying on issues relating to migration for two years after the end of his mandate in mid-2019.
Avramopoulos is not the only former EU commissioner to have played a high profile role in Fight Impunity: Emma Bonino, an Italian politician who was health commissioner in the 1990s, is also listed as an honorary board member. She stepped down from the honorary board after the corruption allegations surfaced.
Bonino founded another non-profit organization, called No Peace Without Justice, whose offices are also located at Rue Ducale 41 in Brussels. The Commission has suspended all funding to No Peace Without Justice pending further investigation, Mamer said.
Bonino, a senior figure in Italian politics and former foreign minister, has distanced herself from Pier Antonio Panzeri, the former MEP and founder of Fight Impunity but the two did meet.