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European politics

Bribery is endemic in Brussels

Eva Kaili, who has been charged in the EU corruption scandal. Menelaos Myrillas/SOOC/AFP/Getty

The EU establishment has been quick to spin recent allegations of bribe-taking as “limited to a few bad apples”, says Thomas Fazi in UnHerd. In fact, corruption is “endemic” in Brussels. There are some 30,000 lobbyists working in the bloc’s capital, more than in any other city bar Washington DC, and they have “huge sums at their disposal”: €1.8bn across 12,400 companies and organisations. All this cash buys top-level access. Between December 2019 and May 2022, EU President Ursula von der Leyen’s team held 500 meetings with oil, gas and coal lobbyists. She arranged a €35bn Covid vaccine deal with Pfizer “via a series of text messages with the company’s chief”.

Regulations around Brussels lobbying leave a lot to be desired. The bloc’s lawmakers are “encouraged” but not required to report the meetings they have with interest groups. Pro-EU types think a bit of “institutional tinkering”, such as tightening up the rules and setting up an ethics committee, should resolve the issue. Others argue that the solution is to “democratise the EU” by strengthening the European Parliament. They all miss the point: the EU is at heart a “supranational and technocratic” beast, distanced physically and linguistically from ordinary people. Because of that, it’ll always be “prone to capture” by vested interests, be they foreign governments or multinational corporations. EU corruption isn’t a bug – it’s a feature.