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EU’s Schinas rejects any link to Qatar corruption scandal

EU’s Schinas rejects any link to Qatar corruption scandal

The Greek commissioner faces scrutiny over positive comments about Qatar’s labor rights reforms.
No bribes, no influence. Just a career of transparency and “light.”

That was the full-throated message from European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas on Tuesday, as speculation swirled in Brussels over who might be ensnared next in an expanding probe into allegations of Qatari corruption infiltrating EU institutions.

Schinas has faced scrutiny as one of the EU’s leading figures engaging with Qatar on issues like workers’ rights ahead of the World Cup, and on removing visa restrictions for the country.

“Let me be very clear and very simple because I think this is the moment to be clear and simple,” Schinas began, speaking to reporters in Strasbourg, where the European Parliament was meeting. “Across the year, all my public statements on Qatar are fully, 100 percent compatible with the position of the Commission.”

After a series of raids in recent days unearthed evidence involving a Parliament vice president, Eva Kaili, attention has turned to Schinas and his recent praise for Qatar’s efforts on labor reform — a stance seemingly at odds with well-documented worker exploitation in the country.

Schinas recently lauded Qatar’s “considerable and tangible progress on labour reform,” calling for those improvements to be sustained. And the Greek commissioner, whose portfolio includes some sports issues, also tweeted his approval when he represented the EU at the World Cup opening ceremony last month.

“Qatar, the first Arab and the smallest country ever to host the Cup, delivered reforms & merits a global success,” he said. 

On Tuesday, Schinas defended the position as simply that of the EU itself — as well as of the experts. 

“This is the European Commission: We are not improvising here,” he said, pointing to reports from the International Labor Organization that he said also reflected his comments. 

“Thank God I tweeted,” he added. “You can imagine what type of criticism I would have gotten if I hadn’t tweeted everything I did, everything I said, in the light of day.”

Look at his entire career, he proclaimed: “For me after 32 years of public service, there is only light.”

The Greek commissioner said it was essential that Europe be represented at the World Cup, given its international importance and symbolic role as a post-pandemic restarter. 

“Europe could not be absent of the occasion,” he said. 

Asked directly if he had ever received gifts from Qatar, Schinas offered a list of knickknacks. 

“Yes, I have received a football, a box of chocolates,” he said. “I think that I left both to the driver that was driving me to the stadium.”

Schinas has also been working with Qatar on an EU initiative to lift visa requirements for Qatar and Kuwait, meaning Qataris would no longer need a visa when traveling to the EU for up to 90 days in any 180-day period — either for business, tourism or family purposes.

That move, which was on the edge of finalization in the European Parliament, has now been held back in light of the unfolding corruption investigation.
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