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EU splits open as Hungary, Italy and Poland call for bloc reform

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Three European leaders have come out swinging at the European Union, all of them calling for urgent reforms following the Qatar scandal. Hungary threw the opening salvo, calling for the European Parliament to be abolished in the wake of the Qatar scandal that sent four of its members to prison. Poland and Italy also said they were “fed up” with EU bureaucracy, also calling for reforms to restore trust with European citizens.

The bloc is facing a crisis of trust following the Qatar scandal that enfulged the Parliament and saw Belgian police raids uncover €1.5million in residences and offices linked to the Gulf state. 

The police investigation is still underway, raising fears more MEPs and other EU leaders could be involved in the scandal. European lawmaker Eva Kaili was the first suspect arrested on December 9 on charges of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organisation with Qatar. 

Her arrest was quickly followed by six others. Four officials are now in jail. Despite evidence of her culpability, Ms Kaili’s lawyer insisted her client is innocent “without footnotes and asterisks.”

In a press statement, the lawyer later said that Ms Kaili “never claimed she knew or participated in the acts of which her partner is accused, never had ownership or possession of the money found in the shared apartment. She has never in her life taken a bribe.”

The European Parliament, presided by Roberta Metsola, now face a major test of accountability. While President Metsola said the bloc needs stricter ethics rules, other European leaders are considering a major rethink of the European Union.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said: “If we want to restore public trust, it’s time to abolish the European Parliament,” adding the recent scandal in the Parliament showed that anti-corruption rules have “failed miserably.”

Instead of a supra-national Government, Mr Orbán suggested creating a new European Parliament, consisting of national delegates.

“This guarantees greater oversight, accountability and credibility. Give control back to the Member States!” he said.

Poland and Italy joined Hungary in criticising the “European superstate” and calling for more powers at member state level. 

We are “fed up with the diktats of European bureaucracy,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, adding his country and Italy want to “renew the European Union” together. 

“A Europe of homelands rather than a European superstate: We could both subscribe to this,” Mr Morawiecki told Italian newspaper La Stampa.

He added: “Poles and Italians are fed up with the diktats of the European bureaucracy and want real democracy. We want to renew the EU by returning to its founding principles.”

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The three leaders have repeatedly criticised and engaged in battles with the bloc for various reasons. Earlier this month, Viktor Orbán, the illiberal right-wing leader, blocked a new EU package of financial aid for Ukraine worth €18billion. 

Giorgia Meloni, the nationalist leader of a post-fascist party, slammed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for refusing to agree a gas price cap at the EU level, questioning whether his stance represents “Europeanism”. 

On the same subject, Mateusz Morawiecki slashed EU countries for behaving in a “very selfish way” to tackle the energy crisis, as the bloc failed to approve a proposal to impose the cap on gas prices.

In response to the Qatar scandal, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola has promised to unveil a “wide-ranging reform package” in January.

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