Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

"Qatargate" shakes up Greece

The scandal takes on political proportions as analysts rebuke Athens and Brussels

The latest scandal that broke out in the EU capital of Brussels is causing major unrest in Greek politics only months before the legislative elections. In the latest days, the international media revealed that "a country from the Persian Gulf" had contacted European officials to request special treatment. This nation is declassified as Qatar by the Greek media. According to Belgian authorities, Greek politician Eva Kaili is a prominent figure in the scandal.

Since 2014, Kaili, the vice-president of the European Parliament, has been elected to the European Parliament by PASOK, the mainstream party of the Greek center-left. Belgian officials detained the Greek lawmaker on Friday. People connected to Kaili and Qatar's attempt to buy Kaili and other European politicians' "services" are at the center of the police inquiry. The probe into the issue, codenamed "Qatargate" by the international and Greek media, may soon involve other figures from European politics and social life, according to the Greek press.

The Kaili issue sparks debate and political changes in Greece's capital just months before parliamentary elections. On the one side, Kaili's party is attempting to manage the crisis; on the other, it accuses the Greek government of engaging in "political flirting" with the Greek politician who had just been expelled from PASOK and the European Parliament. Greek columnists and commentators take a more comprehensive approach to the topic, pointing out that corruption in Greek politics is a persistent issue and condemning Greek politicians for their prior passive attitude regarding Kaili's equivocal positions on several significant subjects.

Political dimensions of the scandal

In the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, PASOK left its mark on Greece's political scene. It is renowned for its center-left stance, populism, and sporadic involvement in significant scandals. Akis Tzochatzopoulos, the PASOK government's minister of national defense, and his wife were imprisoned during a colossal scandal involving important modernization projects in the Greek army ten years ago, right before a pivotal electoral contest. Pasok is again at the center of a significant corruption case with an international component thanks to the Kaili case, which comes ten years later.

Since the issue emerged, the PASOK leadership has been attempting to stay away from Kaili, who is being held in detention in Belgium. The movement's head, Nikos Androulakis, removing Kaili from the party, released messages expressing his movement's resolve to combat all forms of corruption.

"I will not tolerate any kind of suspicion regarding transparency. I won't allow anyone to detract from Pasok's new direction. We must have a solid moral attitude, regardless of how strong the individual is in the alleged scandal," Androulakis said in his first remarks for the new scandal.

At the end of 2021, Androulakis became Pasok's leader, and ever since, his movement has seen a growth in popularity among voters. Greek pundits predict Pasok will soon play a significant role in creating the country's next coalition government. In the shadow of the Qatargate scandal, Androulakis considers the future of his movement's in trouble.

To manage the crisis, Androulakis challenges the government of the conservative New Democracy Party (ND) because, in the past, it tried to include Kaili in its ranks. He also reminds his detractors of the quarrel he had with Kaili in the past. "Her transfer was being prepared for time. Now they say they were unaware. They even have the gall to connect the unlawful interceptions of my discussions, which stopped a year ago, with a criminal investigation (Qatargate), which only recently started," Androulakis stresses.

Kaili reflected the pro-European attitude of cooperation with the ND in Greek politics before the emergence of Qatargate. This perception emerged during the memorandum years' coalition governments but gradually faded because it was thought to have negatively affected PASOK, ND's minor partner. With her attitude on the incident involving illegal interceptions, which involved the leader of her movement, the vice-president of the European Parliament was seen by many as degrading. Additionally, she is charged with seeking to prevent PASOK's president from testifying directly before the PEGA Committee, which is looking into the scandal. Her vote in the European Parliament secretary election was another point of contention with Pasok and the Eurosocialists.

"The problem is enormous"

For Greek experts, the Kaili case goes beyond Qatargate and the current political crises in Greece. It touches on a crucial issue that plagues contemporary Greece and Europe: the "disease" of corruption. Even though corruption is a long-standing phenomenon among judges, legislators, and journalists, the European and Greek mechanisms fail to act quickly enough to stop scandals.

"It's not so much that certain MEPs and other Brussels officials were "getting on" in the instance of the Qatari bribes. The problem is that they were "caught" ignoring the fact that the World Cup was founded not just on the suffering of the migrant workers who constructed the stadiums, but also on their own lives. In Qatar, at least 6,000 migrant workers perished. This is what the Qatari government was attempting to hide. The defendants were bought off because of this," Lefteris Haralambopoulos underlines.

The columnist adds that "Eva Kaili came out in front and called Qatar, a country with hundreds of dead workers, "a pioneer in workers' rights." A prominent member of a criminal organization that had taken on "washing away" a bloody and dictatorial dictatorship for a significant sum of money was a Greek MEP, who I think has been mentioned more than once as hailing from the nation that "gave birth to democracy." The worst part, however, was not what she did; rather, it was the unprecedented response this MEP received from the political establishment and the media. She was appointed vice president of the European Parliament by PASOK. Why didn't she have her membership in PASOK terminated as soon as she delivered the speech that "laundered" Qatar's crimes? Hadn't ND learned she was so crooked, even though they regarded her like an ally and transfer candidate? After all, everyone in the European Parliament now knows that lobby groups in Brussels are promoting "black" political money," the author sneers in bitterness."

Olga Stefou continues, "They recognized nothing was wrong when Kaili remarked that in Qatar, the working relations are fantastic, following Haralambopoulos' rationale. They did not know something was wrong despite there being 6,500 dead workers. While everyone else knew it, Androulakis, her ex-partner, and the rest of PASOK did not."

"Corruption is a structural element of the European system"

According to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the corruption issue affects not only Greece but also the current structure of Europe. The movement's general secretary, Dimitris Koutsoumbas, observes that "we live in a rotten, exploitative system, highlighting that all these Kaili-type developments are an element of a corrupted system that Brussels controls."

The European Union, Koutsoumbas emphasizes, is "the cause of corruption because of its policies and attitudes, such as the European Parliament's treatment of Qatar and the scandal surrounding the 6,000 dead workers who contributed to the World Cup's success. When we had all scrutinized Qatar, it wasn't just Kaili who made immoral and disgusting arguments in defense of Qatar."

The leader of the KKE claims that corruption "is a structural aspect of a system, represented by Kaili and like-minded European officials" that attempts to "suppress the public movement, fury, and rightful indignation that exists (in the modern European societies)."

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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