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Why the lobbying scandal won’t kill Qatar’s aviation deal with the EU

Why the lobbying scandal won’t kill Qatar’s aviation deal with the EU

The Open Skies agreement has been in place for over a year, and there’s little desire to end it.
Don't worry, intercontinental travelers: Allegations of rampant corruption in the European Parliament won't put a hard stop to the aviation deal between the EU and Qatar.

With a bribery scandal blazing through Parliament, lawmakers voted Thursday to suspend all work relating to Qatar — which includes the final approval of the bloc's aviation agreement with the Gulf state.

However, that won't have any immediate impact on the aviation deal. It was signed last year and is already in effect while member countries get around to ratifying it, something only six countries — Ireland, Austria, Latvia, Greece, Estonia and the Czech Republic — have done. It needs a sign-off from all 27 member countries before going to Parliament for a final nod, a process an EU official said could take from five to 10 years.

That's not stopping members of Parliament from distancing themselves from the deal.

German liberal lawmaker MEP Jan-Christoph Oetjen told Germany's ZDF that he’d received offers to visit Qatar, but that he turned them down. The ratification process should be interrupted, he said, “so we can figure out whether Qatar has had any influence.”

French far-left MEP Leïla Chaibi, who proposed the measure on Qatar-related files, blasted Qatar Airways for being “expert in aggressive lobbying and phishing of MPs." The EU-Qatar aviation deal, Chaibi also said, was now "grounded."

The airline did not respond to requests for comment.

In EU capitals, there's little appetite to upend the aviation deal, despite controversies when it was negotiated.

It was opposed by big airlines like Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, which worried it gave more benefits to Qatar than to EU carriers.

“It’s not an easy situation,” said one EU diplomat. “It’s not black or white. The EU has to tread very carefully on this.”

The diplomat pointed out EU nations’ financial entanglements with the Gulf state; for instance, Germany last month signed a 15-year liquefied natural gas supply deal with Qatar.

“If they [Qatar] retaliate, especially now it’s very, very cold, imagine how the gas prices will shoot up,” the diplomat said. “That’s what I think member states are considering.”

A diplomat from a second country said any move to revoke the deal would be a “political decision,” and argued that Parliament should deal with its suspicions in-house.

An official from a country that's already ratified the text also ruled out revoking it.

Other countries said they wanted to see the results of any probe before acting.

“We will await the investigation before we draw any conclusions and hope for an update from the [European Parliament] presidency soon,” said a spokesperson for the Dutch government, co-owner of Air France-KLM.

Even a lobby group formed to combat the deal — Europeans for Fair Competition (E4FC) — is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We are shocked about the corruption claims related to Qatar and MEPs and we welcome the thorough investigation related to the matter. We are closely monitoring the situation,” the lobby group said.

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