Greek unpleasantness in Brussels

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

As if it was not enough for high-profile, European Parliament Vice-President Greek MEP Eva Kaili to find herself embroiled in a nasty influence-peddling-cum-bribery scandal involving (equally high-profile) Qatar which brought her to the criminal-law attention of Belgian authorities, there was further suspicion of fraud involving European Parliament funds covering her assistants’ s pay. In the latter case, Kaili found herself in the same context with European Public Prosecutor/EPPO charges addressed to (also Greek) MEP Maria Spyrakis.

There can be no comparison of the gravity of the two cases: the one already termed QatarGate in Brussels parlance has to do with major geopolitical-sounding endeavors of an important trading partner of several EU countries, which had just hosted the 2022 World Cup and is vying with other Gulf powers for influence in the European Union power seats. The malfeasance around European Parliament personnel pay is of – comparably – quite mundane nature.

Whatever the outcome of such unpleasantness, it comes at quite wounding conjunction for Greece. The country, its people and its leadership were leaving behind them a long spell during which European public opinion was negatively charged towards all things Greek: an economy on the brink of bankruptcy; people living the easy life as coasters waiting for affluent but unfunded retirement; a largely corrupt ruling class – such wounding negative stereotypes were making the rounds. As Greece ended successfully an uphill climb in 2018 and now exited its Enhanced Surveillance stint, the image of a valiant little country was once more emerging (and accepted) , with a feisty and extroverted population as well as open-minded leaders.

It is a disheartening let-down, now, for the good looks and the high-flying behavior of Eva Kaili to tarnish the redemption image Greece was living through; the QatarGate may well be a mainly Italian-involvement matter (with much more to come, both in European Parliament and Commission setting – but let’s not rush things), but it is the Greek MEP profile that plays again and again in the news. The profiles of Pier Antonio Panzeri, Nicolo Figa Talamanga and Andrea Cozzolino are not making the rounds in a comparable manner; nor is the media treatment meted to Francesco Giorgi, sweetheart of Kaili, of comparable rigour as the one reserved to the Greek MEP.

The same goes for the alleged misappropriation of European Parliament funds by assistants of either Kaili or Spyraki: the lax mores of MEPs in this field are a long-standing matter of concern for the European Parliament – but now it gets media treatment as a (mainly) Greek scandal.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in Brussels for EU Summit business, must have felt the chilly if not outright freezing vibes around him.

Needless unpleasantness, indeed.