The media blackout over Qatargate

This EU mega-scandal has been largely ignored by the UK’s Remainer media.

Frank Furedi

Frank Furedi

Topics Brexit Politics UK World

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Qatargate, the huge corruption scandal engulfing the EU, seems to be of little interest to the mainstream media in the UK. Far more column inches and airtime have been devoted to Rishi Sunak’s failure to wear a seatbelt than to this mega-scandal in Brussels, in which numerous members of the EU oligarchy and their friends in NGO-land stand accused of taking cash bribes from the Qatari government. Eva Kaili, the former vice-president of the European Parliament, was arrested and charged with corruption in December, and is currently being detained in a jail just outside of Brussels.

As far as the Remainer lobby and its friends in Brussels are concerned, the main problem is not the allegedly corrupt behaviour of pro-federalist EU bigwigs and their associates, but the ammunition that this scandal provides to Eurosceptics. As the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall argued when Qatargate first erupted, the scandal is ‘Good news for the world’s autocrats – EU sleaze is a huge own goal for democracy’. I have met numerous Eurocrats in Brussels who share Tisdall’s view. Many of them appear indifferent to the extraordinary crimes that have been alleged. As far as they are concerned, the real crime is that corrupt MEPs have provided their opponents with a valuable propaganda tool.

As one commentator in the New European has complained, the scandal ‘feeds into the political Eurosceptic argument that the EU is a corrupt mess staffed by self-interested bureaucrats, a view that will now win new sympathisers… Eurosceptics and Europhobes will see it all as confirmation that we are better off out of it and that the institutions of the EU are corrupt.’

Optics, not the scandal itself, is the primary concern for Europhiles. Stéphane Séjourné, leader of the Renew liberal group in the European Parliament, warned last week that, unless something decisive was done to reform the EU’s institutions, the scandal will boost Euroscepticism. He said that, ‘If we do not resolve it before summer then it will feed into the extremist debates at the next European elections’ in May 2024. Arancha González, a former Spanish foreign minister and ex-adviser to the European Commission, is concerned that the scandal could call into question the legitimacy of ‘the whole European project’. This fear of promoting Euroscepticism is clearly behind the UK media’s effective blackout of the scandal.

British Europhiles have also tried to deflect from the scandal with ‘whataboutery’. Remainers claim that opponents of the EU have no moral authority to criticise Brussels because they too are steeped in corrupt practices. As Martin Fletcher writes in the New Statesman:

‘Since when has our own government – its sovereignty so happily restored by Brexit – been such a paragon of virtue? What about Boris Johnson’s peerages for allies such as Evgeny Lebedev, and for Peter Cruddas and others who have made substantial donations to the Conservative Party, or David Cameron’s unseemly lobbying of minister friends on behalf of his paymaster, Lex Greensill? Nor should we forget that no less than 37 British MPs have enjoyed complimentary trips to Qatar over the past five years.’

In drawing attention to this long list of Tory misdeeds, Fletcher is trying to downplay the significance of Qatargate. He essentially tries to equate MPs enjoying the hospitality of Qatar in the run up to the World Cup with the outright bribery of public figures in the European Parliament.

The response to Qatargate makes it clear that the Remainer political class is so invested in the EU that it is prepared to minimise these extraordinary allegations of corruption. Its single-minded focus is on shielding the EU from reputational damage. The Remainer class would rather protect its own from the glare of accountability than confront the corrupting influences at work in Brussels. A corrosive double-standard is at work here.

Frank Furedi is the executive director of the think-tank, MCC-Brussels.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Brexit Politics UK World


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