EU Parliament 'ready' for requests to lift MEPs' immunity in Russian influence probe, says Metsola

EU Parliament 'ready' for requests to lift MEPs' immunity in Russian influence probe, says Metsola

Speaking in Strasbourg ahead of the final plenary of the mandate, Metsola touched upon allegations members of her parliament received cash from a Kremlin-backed network to spread Russian propaganda in Europe.

Authorities in Belgium, the official seat of the European Parliament, have opened a judicial investigation into the claims, after Czech authorities first foiled a suspected propaganda operation in March.

"We continue to wait for information to be received from national authorities, because this would require any waiver of immunity being adopted by this House," Metsola explained.

"Investigations that would need to take place like we had, like had happened in the past, that would require national authorities to ask. We're waiting for that. And if that happens, we will do our job as we've always done," she added.

It comes just over two months before EU voters head to the polls to elect 720 members to the European Parliament, and amid mounting fears Kremlin proxies could be using information manipulation to skew the democratic vote.

Metsola, who belongs to the centre-right party expected to win those elections, the European People's Party (EPP), is running again to represent constituents in her native Malta in a bid to retain her seat.

Dubbed Russiagate, the sprawling probe is the second cash-for-influence scandal to rock the parliament - the EU's only democratically-elected institution - since Metsola took the reins half-way through the mandate.

In December 2022, just nine months after she assumed the presidency, a handful of current and former MEPs were accused of receiving money from Qatari, Moroccan and Mauritanian officials to influence the hemicycle's decisions on their behalf.

Metsola was personally asked to assist raids on the home of certain MEPs facing accusations.

Speaking to Euronews, she described the experience as a "gut punch."

But she assured that her institution's response had ensured that the action of a few didn't end up tainting the parliament's reputation.

"Now, we had the choice that day. Either we say that this is something that would happen in any parliament, or that we look at the party political colour or that we look at the country involved," she said in relation to the so-called Qatargate scandal, which predominantly implicated lawmakers belonging to the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group.

"But I refused to do that. I said: this House needs to move on. This House needs to make sure that if something like this had to happen again, then firewalls would be put in place and alarm bells would be sounded," she went on.

"I am proud of the response of the members when they said, you know, we do not want this mandate, which is huge in terms of its impact, to be tarnished by the alleged actions of a small number. And I think that's where we can say we are today."

Metsola has spearheaded an ethics reform designed to close loopholes and crack down on undue interests. It means MEPs face stricter rules when accepting gifts, trips paid by third countries, side-jobs and a cooling-off period after leaving office.

An agreement to establish an ethics body tasked with enforcing the new rules will be up for a plenary vote on Thursday. The deal is the result of negotiations between eight EU institutions and is based on a Commission proposal made at the request of the parliament.

The full Global Conversation interview with President Roberta Metsola will be aired on Euronews on Thursday evening.