A GROUP set up to maintain links between Scotland and the EU faces being banned this year in the wake of a major corruption scandal.

The European Friends of Scotland, which is based at the Scottish Government’s Brussels Office in Scotland House, is among unofficial “friendship groups” with non EU countries which may be prohibited as MEPs consider tightening up ethics rules. 

According to the Scottish Government's website, its Brussels Office provides a secretariat function to support the running of the group whose members include German MEPs David McAllister and Terry Reintke and Catalan MEPs Carles Puigedmont (the former president of Catalonia) and Clara Ponsati.

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The move follows efforts by the European Parliament to strengthen its whistleblower protection systems and conduct a full review of all recent legislation, as it responds to the corruption investigation linked to football World Cup host Qatar. 

Scottish based EU expert Anthony Salamone said: "The banning of the European Friends of Scotland group would cut off an important avenue for the Scottish government to engage with EU decision-makers.

"This episode demonstrates that Scotland, regardless of its pro-EU sentiment, is subject to the internal politics of the EU – in this case, the European Parliament's efforts to shore up its own reputation. It is also a reminder that sentiment alone counts for little when it comes to Scotland's relationships with the EU."

There is no suggestion of wrong doing by the European Friends of Scotland or any of its members.

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Under a package of proposals MEPs' financial interests will be scrutinised and a new regime to track all meetings with third-country representatives is being considered.

The measures have been set out by Roberta Metsola, president of the parliament, with the reforms due to be brought in this year.

Belgian police have charged four people, including Greek MEP Eva Kaili, after raids at politicians’ homes uncovered about €1.5mn in cash, allegedly part of a bribery campaign by Doha. 

Ms Metsola told the EU’s 27 leaders last month that she would overhaul the parliament’s regulations to ensure the chamber was “not for sale to foreign actors that seek to undermine us”.

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“This will include the strengthening of the parliament’s whistleblower protection systems, a ban on all unofficial friendships groups, a review of the policing of our code of conduct rules and a complete and in-depth look of how we interact with third countries,” she told reporters. 

MEPs from the centre-right, liberal and centre-left groups told the Financial Times last year that they had been approached by Qataris through the Qatar-EU Parliamentary Friendship Group in Brussels. The group co-operates with the Qatari embassy in Brussels. 

The Scottish Government website states: "The European Friends of Scotland friendship group serves as an informal network of MEPs representing different political groups of the European Parliament with the objective of helping to facilitate dialogue on specific areas of mutual interest, and to ensure as close a relationship as possible between Scotland and the EU now that the UK has left the European Union.

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"The UK’s departure from the EU means that Scotland is no longer represented in the European Parliament. Scotland remains committed to maintaining and developing a positive relationship with our European friends and partners. Given the European and global challenges we all face, close links between the European Parliament and Scotland are important as we work together to tackle crises such as the climate emergency. This group is neutral in regard to Scotland’s constitutional status within the UK and the UK’s future relationship with the EU."

It says that the aims of the group are: 

 

  • Promoting stronger economic, social and cultural relations between the EU and Scotland
  • Encouraging cooperation and understanding in key areas that relate to both the EU and Scotland such as climate change, the green deal, wellbeing economy, international development/SDGs, the Arctic, etc. and the future EU-UK relationship
  • Helping to maintain links between elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and MEPs
  • Facilitating links between the EU and Scottish Civil Society

It adds: "This will remain an open forum where MEPs, representatives of other European institutions, NGOs, and third sector organisations, in Brussels can meet with MSPs, NGOs, third sector organisations from Scotland and Scottish Ministers where appropriate."

HeraldScotland: GLEN COE, SCOTLAND - MARCH 24:  A European Union flag and Saltire flag blow in the wind near to Glen Coe on March 24, 2014 in Glen Coe, Scotland. A referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country will take place on September 18, 2014.  (Ph


Around three of four meetings of the European Friends of Scotland group are held annually, according to the Scottish Government which says that they can be on any topic related to Scotland and Europe based on suggestions from members or with the consent of members or based on suggestions from the Secretariat. 

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"Activities will seek to facilitate and highlight the ongoing links between Scotland and the EU," it adds.


"An important role of the group will be to facilitate contacts with MSPs from all political parties after the UK has left the EU.

"The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee of the Scottish Parliament will be the primary contact for MEPs wishing to reach out to MSPs if they are to visit the Scottish Parliament. The group will also help where possible when MSPs visit the European Parliament."

The Scottish Government lists the following MEPs as members of European Friends of Scotland:


Andris Ameriks, Latvia
Rasmus Andresen, Germany
Erik Bergkvist, Sweden
Vlad-Marius Botoş, Romania
Udo Bullmann, Germany
Asger Christensen, Denmark
Toni Comín, Spain
Corina Cretu, Romania
Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, France
Pascal Durand, France
Cyrus Engerer, Malta
Frances Fitzgerald, Ireland
Gianna Gancia, Italy
Christophe Grudler, France
Hannes Heide, Austria
Eero Heinaluoma, Finland
Danuta Hübner, Poland
Sophia In’ t Veld, Netherlands
Marina Kaljurand, Estonia
Pierre Karleskind, France
Manolis Kefalogiannis, Greece
Łukasz Kohut, Poland
Petros Kokkalis, Greece
Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Finland
Nathalie Loiseau, France
David McAllister, Germany
Tilly Metz, Luxembourg
Niklas Nienass, Germany
Jan-Christoph Oetjen, Germany
Urmas Paet, Estonia
Clara Ponsati, Spain
Carles Puigdemont, Spain
Terry  Reintke, Germany
Diana Riba i Giner, Spain
Manuela Ripa, Germany 
Nacho Sánchez Amor, Spain
Michaela Šojdrová, Czechia
Jordi  Solé, Spain
Nils Torvalds, Finland
István Ujhelyi, Hungary
Kathleen Van Brempt, Belgium
Loránt Vincze, Romania
Sarah Wiener, Austria
Željana Zovko, Croatia

Outlining the new ethics proposals Ms Metsola added: “We will look into everything. We will look into any undue pressure and any undue influence that we see that takes place.” 

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The response would also include a “thorough review” of the declaration of financial interests by all of the chamber’s 705 members, Ms Metsola said. 

She also proposed “a new mandatory transparency register of all meetings with any third country actor”. 

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ministers support President Metsola’s swift response and robust plan of action to root out corruption and protect the standing of the European Parliament.

"The Scottish Government is closely monitoring the situation and will consider any emerging decisions or guidance once this is available. Through the Scottish Government’s International Network work will continue to develop, maintain and enhance relationships with the European Union to ensure Scotland’s interests are represented in Europe.”

A European Parliament spokesman said: "On 15 December, EP President Metsola announced her intention to look into Informal Friendship Groups.

"The same day, the European Parliament has a whole voted a resolution calling for the same objective, with its article 16 mentioning 'that proper regulation and monitoring of friendship groups is a prerequisite for their continued existence in Parliament'.

"This topic is part of the larger reforms suggested by President Metsola and discussed with EP leaders in view increasing transparency, accountability  rapidly in line with the plenary decision.

"No final decision on this reform proposals has been taken at this stage. MEPs occasionally form unofficial groups. These 'friendship groups' are not official European Parliament organisations. These groups do not coordinate with the committees and cannot speak on behalf of Parliament."