Luxury trip to Maldives, “election observation” paid for by Russia: how it sponsored political trips of EU parliamentarians.
Sounds tempting: a quick tip to “Ozen Reserve Bolifushi Resort”, a secluded luxury villa in the Maldives, is transportation by luxury yacht. According to self-introduction here “every dream and every wish come true”.
Czech MP Tomáš Zdechovský (Member of the Conservative EPP Group) was able to see this with his own eyes in February 2021. Stayed at the property for three nights. And as an MEP, he sponsored the trip. The Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs covered the flight and accommodation expenses.
Paid trip to Maldives? “I have nothing to hide”
This comes from Tomáš Zdechovský (head of the EU Parliament “Maldives Friendship Group”) himself – Members of the European Parliament are obliged to disclose paid travel. Zdechovsky defends his trip to the ZDF today: He has nothing to hide.
At the very least, it should be controversial. ZDF today has an assessment of all trips sponsored by the EU Parliament during this legislative term. At least 226 trips have been paid for by a third party since 2019. For the most part, it should be trouble-free: if MPs go to lectures in an EU member state.
Dozens of excursions paid for by troubled actors
But there are many invitations on the list that are worth discussing: 55 trips from Azerbaijan to Bahrain, Qatar to Syria and Russia were paid for by dubious third countries or their state companies. These are the trips that seem even more suspicious after the scandal surrounding Eva Kaili, the former vice-president of the European Parliament, who is now in prison. Just four examples:
- German AfD MP Gunnar Beck In October 2021 there was a trip to Moscow, paid for by the Russian parliament. Purpose: election observation. But how impartial can Russian-funded election observation be? When asked by the ZDF, Beck justified himself: “I accepted the Duma’s invitation because I think election observation is important, especially in Russia.” Of course, he thinks it’s “plausible” to watch independent elections despite sponsorship.
- Spanish Deputy José Ramon Bauza (liberal Renew faction) attended an aviation convention in Doha sponsored by Qatar Airways in February 2020. Spicy: Bauzá is the transport policy coordinator of the parliamentary group. It left a ZDFheute inquiry about it unanswered.
- Also Romanian EPP MEP Traian Basescu He went to Doha in December 2019 at the owner’s expense. He also did not respond to a request from ZDF today.
- French deputy of the far-right RN, Virginia Joron, flew to Bahrain in November 2021, paid for the plane and hotel. Also no answers to questions from him from ZDF.
“MPs owe their landlords”
Party lawyer from the University of Dusseldorf Prof. Sophie Schönberger emphasizes that such sponsored trips are legally permitted. After all, a direct influence on voting behavior is unlikely to be proven.
Michiel van Hulten, director of Transparency International’s EU office, agrees: “There is a risk that lawmakers are in debt to their landlords and repay that debt with political favors.”
Ban lawmakers on sponsored trips?
The anti-corruption NGO is therefore calling for a ban on trips sponsored by third parties. A reform proposal presented so far by Speaker of Parliament Roberta Metsola (EPP) only provides for increased transparency obligations.
A ban is also difficult to enforce legally, says party lawyer Schönberger: “Then you quickly come to the realm of free exercise of powers.” In principle, it is within the scope of the freedom of every MP to “act politically unreasonably or dishonorably”.
Every member of the European Parliament has a budget for political travel
However, the question arises whether EU parliamentarians have enough money to travel. In addition to the diet, the MPs also have their own pot, 4 thousand 716 euros this year.
Of course, that wouldn’t be enough for a luxury Maldives trip.
I am Timothy Glover, a professional journalist and content creator. I specialize in writing and editing for news websites, specifically covering politics. I have been working as an author at News Unrolled for the past five years and have built up a reputation for producing quality content that is both informative and engaging.