European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly on Monday asked the European Commission to explain its rules on staffers’ business trips paid for by third parties, after POLITICO reported that a top official had accepted free flights to Qatar.
O’Reilly, who is responsible for investigating administrative malpractice cases within EU institutions, sent a letter to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen asking how her institution plans to update its rules related to business trips, and to detail travel costs that have been paid by third parties since 2021. The details of the probe were first revealed by POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook.
O’Reilly’s queries come after a POLITICO investigation revealed last week that the Commission’s top transport official, Director General of its transport department Henrik Hololei, had taken free Qatar Airways business class flights to Doha between 2015 and 2021 — just as his team was negotiating a major aviation deal with the Gulf state. Four of these tickets were paid for by the Qatari government or groups linked to Qatar.
The final aviation deal granted Qatar-based airlines, including Qatar Airways, landing rights at most EU destinations, offering the carrier lucrative access to a market of 450 million consumers. In return, EU airlines received access to a market of fewer than 3 million people, but through a Doha airport hub that’s strategically located between the megacities of Europe and Asia.
Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said the Commission “will of course respond” to the Ombudsman’s questions.
The Commission is already revising the rules on free trips to non-EU countries to “severely limit the cases in which such hospitality is allowed, namely to international events organized by the U.N., the G7 and G20, and of course official events organized by [EU] member states,” Mamer added.
The upcoming investigation is the latest chapter in the ongoing “Qatargate” corruption scandal that has rocked the EU, leading to the arrest of three members of the European Parliament in Belgium and Italy, as well as a former EU lawmaker.
Source : Politico