A landmark air transport deal between the European Union and Qatar is in jeopardy of collapsing following a ‘bags of cash’ bribery scandal that has rocked the EU and has resulted in the arrest of at least one MEP by Belgian police, as well as numerous other individuals linked to the corruption investigation.
Greek MEP Eva Kaili has been remanded in custody after Belgian prosecutors claimed they had found ‘bags of cash’ in her apartment. Prosecutors are investigating claims that the small but incredibly wealthy Persian Gulf state made ‘substantial’ payments in order to influence MEPs.
The European Parliament has already moved to delay the implementation of visa-free travel rules for visitors to the bloc from Qatar and Kuwait following the bribery allegations being made public.
Announcing the decision, parliamentary rapporteur Erik Marquardt said Europe would not “proceed towards visa liberalisation for Qatar” until lawmakers could be reassured that the deal had not been “influenced by corruption”.
“There must be strict consequences for those who bribed and for those who have been bribed,” Marquardt continued.
A delay could also be slapped on ratifying a historic air transport agreement signed between the EU and Qatar last year. Qatar hailed the agreement, which would have given flag carrier Qatar Airways free and unrestricted access to every EU market.
Some elements of Europe’s aviation industry slammed the agreement, however, saying the agreement gave Qatar Airways an unfair advantage.
On Tuesday, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola warned that European “democracy is under attack” following the bribery allegations, accusing unnamed “autocratic third countries” of ‘weaponising’ members of the European Parliament.
Chief executive of Qatar Airways Akbar Al Baker had said last year that he was ‘convinced’ that his airline convinced would play an “ever-increasing role in the further development of the European air transport industry.”
The wide-sweeping agreement, the first reached between the EU and a Gulf State, now hangs in the balance as police and lawmakers continue their investigations.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.