EU Parliament: The fine line between lobbying and bribery


Lately, the European Union Parliament moved swiftly to cut an act of corruption among members, alleged or otherwise. This followed an allegation that the vice president of the parliament, Eva Kaili, was induced by the government of Qatar in a lobby effort to have the body favour its position. In the event, investigation is carried out, homes are searched and over €1m seized from people implicated in the corruption allegation. The EU parliament has stripped its VP of her powers.

I think the move by the EU parliament is commendable. For when political institutions take steps to protect their integrity, it keeps the entire system functioning well to the benefit of the majority. Doing nothing when such cases arise can lead to system breakdown, and trust in government as well as endanger democracy. However, the woman at the centre of this has been speaking in her own defence. What she’s been saying makes me wonder once again about a question I had in my mind when I was a teenager.

Meanwhile, Kaili’s lawyer has said his client hasn’t done anything wrong. He has said that Qatar doesn’t even need to bribe anyone because that country’s case on known issues has already received favourable consideration in the parliament. Kaili was carrying out a plan that had started in 2019, and that in fact the EU High Representative and the Commissioner for Home Affairs had decided at the commission level to cooperate with Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman, the lawyer added. Also, Kaili travelled to Qatar when she did as a representative of the European Parliament.

The media space has since mentioned Morocco too in the bribery saga. It’s reportedly keen to influence the EU parliament on matters such as the Saharawi Republic that Morocco claims belongs to it. Morocco has since denied the allegation of bribery, just as Qatar did. For me this allegation over lobbying and bribery in the EU parliament raises interesting questions. As someone who came across the word ‘lobbying’ as a 14-year-old learning the subject ‘government’ in secondary school, I know an issue such as this one isn’t as straightforward as it may first seem. It’s complex, and I’ll try to point to a few of the strands in the complex web that the lobbying phenomenon is.

Generally, lobbying, which involves persons and organisations persuading decision makers to help their cause is acceptable in a democracy. In fact, lobbying lawmakers so that they make laws that favour a course of action is part of the lawmaking process and the fabric of representative democracy.  Now, the EU parliament saga isn’t the first time I come across situations where persons, organisations, lawmakers, and government officials are mentioned in relation to bribery allegations in a lobbying process. Many top officials in western world have been listed in this respect. I can’t recall all of such allegations that I came across as a teenager in those days when TimeNewsweek, and The Economist magazines (the United States and United Kingdom publications) had to be imported and they were for me a must-read each week. They had stories of US lawmakers and citizens, as well as foreigners implicated in bribery scandals in an effort to get members of the US Congress to favour or vote against a bill.

The same applies to the UK where former prime ministers, ministers, other citizens and foreigners have been reported to be involved in corruption related to lobbying. Even as a teenager this had raised a puzzle for me: Where does lobbying stop and bribery start? This puzzle is further aggravated by the many allegations of money collected by Nigerian government officials to help foreigners pursue a matter. Everywhere, we know lawmakers can be lobbied. But they can be punished for collecting money. Two peers in the UK House of Lords are recently suspended for collecting money for the advice they offer to companies that want their products adopted by the government. Yet one has also heard of people in western nations who stand in-between as lobbyists and they collect a commission. They collect gifts. Sometimes this is perfectly acceptable, sometimes conditional, sometimes illegal. So another question, is a lawmaker who has been involved in lobbying entitled to anything?

Related News
  • Economic lag: Oyeyinka’s road map to recovery
  • NBC’s tyranny cannot hide their moral cowardice
  • Chinua Achebe knew (1)

This question becomes even more relevant when we take it down to Nigeria where cases of government officials who collect huge sums of money from foreigners have led to those foreigners getting one contract or the other. When a government official assists an entity to get a thing done, can he or she collect a commission or ‘appreciation’ as Nigerians prefer to call it?   If a government official can collect ‘appreciation,’ can a lawmaker do the same for being helpful to either pass a law or block it? Or, is it that when lawmakers assist to lobby they must not collect anything, not even a bottle of cold water so as to sha ruwa as northerners put it?

More questions arise when it is considered that in western democracies, foreigners too aren’t forbidden to lobby. This comes in various forms and one nation often mentioned with regard to its power of lobby in the US and UK is Israel. Arab nations too are not left out. In fact, political office seekers in western nations attend events organised by groups that lobby for these nations. There, they ask for support for their political aspirations in diverse forms. In the UK, for instance, both the Tories and the Labour parties are regularly accused of accepting donations from known groups that lobby for foreign nations of which they are citizens.

Some lobby groups are so prestigious that when the governments in western nations want their policy to get loudly heard and gather large sympathisers, events organised by these groups are some of the best places to go. And sometimes the hands of these lobby groups are not seen so publicly. They simply bankroll a think-tank, an endowment fund, an institution etc. owned by a citizen of the western nation where they operate. Of course political office seekers, government officials etc. like to be identified with such institutions. That’s one angle regarding the extent to which lobbyists, local or foreign, are woven into the fabric of western democracies.

There is as well the angle of foreign nations wanting their case to be heard and better treatment meted to them by western institutions. The EU Commission in Brussels, its parliament in Strasbourg, and US Congress are high focus for foreign governments in this respects. Incidentally, they are where most controversies with regard to lobbying have been generated. This is the type that involves Qatar, which is at the centre of the current saga in Strasbourg. Qatar is not breaking any laws by wanting the EU parliament to favour it regarding issues that matter to it. In fact, it can show up and hold meetings to get lawmakers to favour it. It can also invite them over to Doha to see facts that will make lawmakers speak in its favour. It should not be forgotten too that Qatar is considered a friendly nation by the West (western democracies react badly to lobbying done by ‘hostile’ nations) and so Qatar’s lobbying activity is welcome.

For me, the line between lobbying and bribery is made complex by culture. Different practices are acceptable in different parts of the world. A Nigerian government official would expect appreciation, or facilitation and the person that doesn’t show either may be seen as an ingrate. I’ve listened to officials in organisations in Nigeria who tell me that, culturally, they find it unacceptable that they assist foreigners and such foreigners dismiss it as “you’re doing your job.” I imagine the cultural nuance of showing and accepting appreciation applies in Qatar.

That Middle East nation had stated that it didn’t do anything wrong in the EU parliament matter. But did Qatar in any form ‘appreciate’ or ‘facilitate’ as its culture possibly permits? If it extends appreciation to any EU lawmaker who has been in contact with it over issues it is interested in, what should the lawmaker do? Reject it and cause offence, thus destroying useful diplomatic links? Report it as an attempt to bribe? Or, collect and consider it as appreciation or facilitation? The questions around lobbying and bribery are endless.


Step down for Tinubu, Adamu Garba tells Obi


Ogun motorist bashes car, kills owner for complaining


NNPCL, marketers plan N148/litre, Tinubu insists on subsidy removal


Tinubu, Atiku spokesmen fault Obi on resignation call


I played street football in France after my agent abandoned me – Stephen


Why FIFA is investigating celebrity chef, Salt Bae


Reps probe illegal fintech, loan apps threatening debtors


After 12 years, Basketmouth, wife end marriage


Naira redesign: Printed number of notes unknown – Emefiele’s representative


More like this