“The ‘Qatargate’ was made possible by the shortcomings of the current rules on transparency and ethics”
Bhile “Qatargate” is as shocking as it is shameful, this scandal – of which we still only know the tip of the iceberg – comes as no surprise to anyone working on the influence of lobbies on European policies. It is the product of years of negligence by European officials with regard to the lobbying practices exercised by repressive regimes in the “Brussels bubble” (even if national capital is not excluded from this phenomenon). On numerous occasions, our organisation, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), has denounced the serious shortcomings of the rules governing this lobbying of European politicians in European institutions.
For many years, repressive regimes have outsourced their diplomacy within the European Union (EU) to public relations firms, lobbyists and pressure groups, and it’s big business. The mission of lobbyists is to whitewash the bloody reputations of dictators, promote lucrative trade deals and investments with totalitarian states, erase sanctions or smear dissidents.
Whether they put pressure on European institutions or on national capitals, these lobbyists generally work in the shadows. The EU Transparency Register is still not mandatory for them, while countries like the United States have strict transparency requirements for the activities of foreign government officials.
Bribes from Azerbaijan
At the end of 2014, we finalized the report “European PR firms whitewashing brutal regimes” (“those European companies that clean up the reputations of repressive governments”), which brings together eighteen case studies of public relations companies and consultants working in Europe for dubious regimes accused of war crimes and human rights violations.
This report shows in particular that in 2014 Qatar succeeded Russia as the most important client of the lobbying company Portland Communications, questioned by the British public channel Channel 4 for practicing what is called“astroturfing” (a technique consisting in simulating a spontaneous movement of opinion and making it seem majority) in order to modify the image of the World Cup in Qatar.
In the same vein, between 2012 and 2014, the Azerbaijani regime funneled billions of dollars through offshore companies to pay bribes, in particular to those involved in the Italy-Azerbaijan megapipeline, the “southern gas corridor”. European”. European officials then participated in what has been called “caviar diplomacy”, which was intended to embellish the image of a repressive regime by minimizing electoral fraud and gross human rights violations. .
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