Estonian MEPs Andrus Ansip and Urmas Paet have refuted suspicions published in French newspaper Le Monde, according to which Qatar might have influenced how they voted on a resolution concerning the country. Both highlighted Qatar's position regarding the Russia-Ukraine war, which, unlike in other countries in the region, has been decidedly pro-West.
Ansip and Paet (both Reform) went against their Renew Europe group when they decided not to back proposals to amend a November 21 resolution critical of the human rights situation in Qatar that would have rendered the document far stronger, Le Monde wrote, adding that Paet was also a member of the European Parliament's Qatar friendship group.
"A few of the proposals did not sit well with me, especially considering other aspects of international affairs had been overlooked. I am first and foremost referring to the country's [Qatar's] attitude toward Russia's aggression in Ukraine," Paet told ERR on Tuesday. "That is the most important foreign policy topic for the European Union and Parliament as I see it."
The MEP said that the resolution was put together hurriedly and without heed to the fact that Qatar has been one of only a few countries in the Persian Gulf, outside the EU and the democratic world to have voted in line with the EU on all resolutions dealing with the Ukraine conflict. "For example, this aspect, which I find to be of crucial importance, was completely overlooked in the case of this resolution," Paet emphasized.
Andrus Ansip echoed Paet's position, adding that the EU has not criticized the FIFA World Cup taking place in Russia in the past, even though it took place after the annexation of Crimea, or the fact that the Winter Olympics have been held in Beijing and Sochi.
"Qatar is the only country in the region that votes in line with EU Member States in the United Nations when it comes to Ukraine and Russia's aggression there," Ansip offered. "Therefore, I do not hold it to be proportional bringing all guns to bear against Qatar, while forgetting about Russia's Ukraine aggression and the fact it got to hold the world cup. Just as we overlook human rights violations in China and accept the Olympic games having taken place there. In other words, it comes off hypocritical," he added.
"I hold this attack against Qatar to be disproportionate. The world accepted the Beijing Olympics, it accepted them in Sochi. The world even accepted Russia holding the 2018 FIFA World Cup after it annexed Crimea. What should have been a denouncement instead manifested in the EU doubling its dependence on Russian gas after the Crimea annexation," Ansip continued.
Against herd mentality
Both Ansip and Paet emphasized that they do not understand Le Monde's position that seemingly requires independent MEPs to behave in a certain way.
"Of course, I absolutely condemn all manifestations of corruption. But I also do not deem sensible attempts to incite herd mentality, suppress plurality of opinion and free speech, and require everyone to vote in the same way to unequivocally condemn everything that has happened in Qatar. We must unequivocally condemn corruption, while we must also commend progress made in Qatar," Ansip said.
I do not hold it appropriate when people give up free speech and attempts to objectively analyze things and situations, go along with herd mentality out of fear of corruption accusations – I deem it hypocriticial and disproportionate. In a situation where the EU was fine with Russia holding the football world cup after it annexed Crimea, I find it disproportional to have nothing but criticism for Qatar," Ansip added.
Urmas Paet said that a newspaper taking issue with how MEPs voted is peculiar to start with.
"A lot of people did not support different changes. Singling out a few names constitutes random and unprofessional conduct by Le Monde, more so as they never contacted me to seek a comment in a situation where a newspaper feels I should have voted differently," the Estonian MEP said.
Paet and Ansip deny Qatar influence
Both MEPs assured ERR that Qatar has in no way influenced their position and decisions.
"The question is inappropriate to begin with. The short answer is no," Paet said when asked whether he has received money from Qatar.
"No one has influenced me – neither Qatar, Morocco, Kuwait nor Bahrein, as many politicians who have voiced their sympathy towards these countries without being influenced by them in any way have deemed necessary to emphasize in the press as of late," Ansip said.
The former Estonian PM said that he has spent exactly one hour in Qatar when grabbing a connecting flight to Copenhagen in Doha.
"All of these questions; how many times have you been to Qatar, who paid for your flight and stay, whether you have received cash from Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco or Bahrein – all are insulting and inappropriate. No, I have not been to Qatar, my income is from the European Parliament and my pension," Ansip emphasized.
Paet: Information about region from Qatar friendship group
Asked how he found himself a member of the friends of Qatar group in the European Parliament, Paet said he was a member since the group was formed when the current Parliament took office until it was dissolved in the wake of the Qatargate scandal.
"People in foreign policy participate in the work of friendship groups when dealing with a specific region. I am also the chairman of the Indonesia and Arctic friendship groups, a member of the Scotland friendship group. I was also a member in the now dissolved Qatar group and several others. It has been a part of my work in foreign policy. Looking at developments in the Persian Gulf, it is one way to gain additional information," Paet said.
The European Parliament is being rocked by a corruption scandal called Qatargate as those embroiled in it are suspected of promoting the country's interests. The Belgian authorities have detained several people with ties to the European Parliament, including Vice President Eva Kaili who was removed from the position following her release.
Editor: Mait Ots, Marcus Turovski