New EU scandal prompts watchdog to ask Commission to clarify sponsored trip rules

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has sent a formal letter to the European Commission asking it to clarify its procedures and rules concerning EU officials’ business trips paid for by third parties.

O’Reilly, who as Ombudsman is tasked with investigating instances of potential administrative malpractice throughout the EU institutions, noted that her request was prompted by a recent Politico report, which found that the Director-General of the Commission’s transport department (DG MOVE), Henrik Hololei, had taken numerous trips to Qatar between 2015 and 2021 that were partly funded by the Qatari Government.

The report also pointed out that these trips had occurred whilst Hololei’s department was involved in negotiating a highly lucrative EU-Qatar air transport deal — thereby raising direct conflict of interest concerns.

“The Qatari government and organisations close to it paying for travel expenses for DG MOVE’s most senior official gives rise to legitimate questions around possible undue influence of the EU’s decision-making in this area,” O’Reilly wrote in her letter.

Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer subsequently informed Politico that the Commission “will of course respond” to O’Reilly’s request.

Parliament also at fault

O’Reilly’s letter also made explicit reference to the ongoing Qatargate corruption scandal, according to which senior EU parliamentary officials are alleged to have received bribes and other favours from the Qatari Government in exchange for supporting pro-Qatari legislation.

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