January 15, 2023

Transparency has always been at the heart of the EU’s core values: freedom, equality, democracy, and the rule of law. These are the four pillars through which member states reach peace and stability. While the EU prioritizes human dignity, equality, representative democracy and freedom of movement, the rule of law is not possible without transparency.

Under Article 15(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, all EU citizens and their legal residents are entitled to access the documents of the EU institutions. While the EU institutions do fulfil the requests of publishing the documentation or do it themselves, EU transparency has been blurred in recent years which was crowned with Qatargate.

The Corruption Scandal Underway

Nonetheless, occasional breaches of the Parliament’s code of conduct plague the so much-promoted value of transparency. Introduced in 2012, the European Parliament’s Code of Conduct has so far remained declarative. In 2018, Transparency International revealed mere 24 alleged breaches of the Code with only one case sanctioned.

Without being sanctioned at all, MPs have felt invulnerable and enjoyed a great deal of impunity. The ethics framework has remained inefficient so far while the European institutions are prone to self-policing and downplaying violations.

On New Year’s Eve, the essential virtue has been much undermined by the most recent corruption scandal. A group of EU MPs (including the Parliament’s Vice President) allegedly participated in illegal affairs and money laundering.

With more than €1.5 m. at stake, the case has turned into a grand international scandal. The unprecedented scale of corruption in the EU Parliament has revealed the fragility of the EU’s high-rank political establishment.

Reputational Whitewashing

With the emerging twists and turns, the European Parliament is about to review all the details related to the alleged ‘cash-for-favors’ scheme, including though not limited to undeclared trips, visa liberalization for Qatar, Morocco and Kuwait, and the illicit lobbying of the MPs by Qatar. The new spheres of influence have rung the bell. The Head of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, calls for an urgent reform process to restore public trust and disallow further misconduct.

In this pursuit, Metsola emphasizes the EU’s accountability, integrity, and independence. The first draft package of reforms has been underway with 14 proposals aimed at changing the internal environment for the MPs, including the prohibition of unofficial friendship groups, publication of scheduled meetings, access to parliamentary premises, as well as the declaration of personal finances and conflicts of interests.

Corporate Europe Observatory and Transparency International closely monitor EU lobbying. Instead of MPs' self-policing, they offer independent oversight of MPs' conduct, change internal whistleblower rules, and regulate MP allowances.

The European Commission has initiated the establishment of a new independent EU-wide Ethics Body that will cover all EU institutions and embrace lawmaking procedures. A newly established body will foremost sanction unethical behaviors across the EU institutions, including MPs, commissioners, and high-rank officials on an equal basis.

On this sustainable background towards deeper transparency, the EU will pursue wider collaboration with the corporate business environment. The Action Plan presents a multi-stakeholder approach with the involvement of all interest groups to avoid subjective influences on decision-making, cease lobbying under wraps, and make financial declarations of parliamentary staff far more transparent. Lawmakers will be held more accountable under harsher sanctions.

European Commission vice-president for values and transparency, Věra Jourová, emphasizes firm action to push through reforms towards the highest standards of integrity across the EU institutional environment. Bolstering transparency regulations will help to harmonize ethical standards to safeguard the EU from foreign interference.

The implementation of the targeted reforms is possible once the ongoing scandal passes away and the European Parliament maintains momentum. The new sanctions regime will solidify whistleblower protections to mitigate bribery allegations.

European ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, stresses the importance of ceasing the double play by the officials with the private sector that diminish public confidence in EU institutions. A new mandatory transparency register and a fresh sanctions regime will ensure overall compliance.

Government Relations at Stake

The limitations of government power are pivotal to the regulation of government relations. The Treaty on the EU and the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) envisages the transparency agenda for the EU administrations, institutions, and representative associations

This is the framework that ensures that all EU actions are coherent and transparent. In 2021, the European Parliament adopted the new Inter-Institutional Agreement on a Genuinely Mandatory Transparency Register.

The legal framework designates the relations of businesses with EU institutions. Government relations in the European Union emphasize the new EU Transparency Register to manage lobbying practices, political financing, anti-corruption, ethical standards, and sanctions.

Under the EU Transparency Register Scheme, the members of the European Commission, Cabinet members, and directors-general are obliged to disclose all meetings held with lobbyists on all issues related to EU policymaking and implementation.

Summing Up

At the core of EU decision-making, transparency enables greater citizen participation and holds public officials accountable. Whenever this is not the case, the EU calls for lobbying for more transparency and tougher monitoring of its institutions.

Transparency is crucial to arrange proper multi-stakeholder cooperation including member-state governments, the private sector, NGOs, and the media. The quality of being transparent best explains how governments and businesses achieve wider perspectives and insights for their performance and growth. Being open and honest is what defines the virtue of transparency in the context of business-and-government interaction.

As an essential part of corporate governance best practices, informed decisions depend on the disclosure of relevant information.

With raised ethical standards high on today’s EU agenda, there should be no room for more bribery. Further actions will also cease the culture of impunity as part of the improved ethical standards.


The material was prepared by Taras Struk, EU GR Forum head organizer and Project Manager at CFC Big Ideas.

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