Henrik Hololei, Estonia's Director General of the EU's Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, is coming under increasing pressure over flights and accommodation while negotiating with his team a major aviation deal with the Gulf state of Qatar, online news portal Politico reports.
On the question of this representing a conflict of interests, a European Commission spokesperson told Politico that: "The invitation and the context in which the director general traveled provided the elements for him to make the assessment," adding that "The assessment that he made at that time [was] that this did not amount to a conflict of interest."
Politico reports that these disclosures raise questions about EU ethical standards in the wake of the pre-existing "Qatargate" corruption scandal, which saw the-then Vice President of the European Parliament arrested,
The commission spokesperson told Politico the body has no information to suggest that other directors general or their deputies had accepted travel cover from non-EU countries, and declined to say whether Hololei should resign, adding: "Everything was in line with the rules applicable at the time."
The commission did confirm that Hololei's hotel accommodation in Qatar had also been covered by "third parties" in addition to flights out of the gulf state, while whether any other costs had been paid was being looked into – though ultimately, the applicable rules noted above meant that Hololei himself was responsible for adjudging whether his own travel arrangements constituted a conflict of interest.
This was a slight rowing-back on earlier commission statements that all potential conflicts of interest were "carefully considered and excluded" at the time.
Politico last week reported Hololei had made nine business class flights for free via Qatar Airways in the years 2015-2021, principally during the EU-Qatar open skies agreement's being assembled, with four flights paid for by either the Qatar government or by an organization closely linked thereto.
It is not clear whether Hololei asked for any advice on potential conflict of interest before accepting the free flights and accommodation.
The original, most recent Politico piece is here.
As reported by ERR News, European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly is launching a probe into the matter.
European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili (Greece) and several other officials were arrested on corruption charges in the "Qatargate," incident an ongoing political scandal which centers on allegations that European Parliament officials, lobbyists and others have engaged in corruption, money laundering, and activities relating to organized crime, in relation to influence from the state of Qatar, and also from Morocco and Mauritania.
Qatar hosted the 2022 FIFA Football World Cup Finals last last year, which also brought human rights issues in the country under the international spotlight.
Estonian MEPs Andrus Ansip and Urmas Paet (both Reform/Renew Europe) rejected claims a French newspaper made that Qatar may have influenced how they voted on a resolution relating to that country.
Hololei, 52, was an early backer of the Parempoolsed party, which contested its first election last Sunday, though he was not a candidate at the election.
He has been serving as the Commission's director-general for mobility and transport since 2015. In the early 1990s he was a co-founder of a party which was the antecedent of the present-day Isamaa, and was a government minister in the early 2000s.
Editor: Andrew Whyte