Growing problem of oligarchs in Europe comes under scrutiny

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The European Commission must step up its fight against “oligarchic structures” in EU countries, lawmakers said Thursday (February 10th).

In a report, lawmakers from the parliament’s Budget Oversight Committee said the oligarchs and their networks act like states within states.

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Oligarchical groups rule in their own interests with no regard for democracy, and their influence has “reached unprecedented proportions in recent years” in the EU, according to the report.

The European Parliament’s move to push the EU executive to tackle corruption in the bloc comes the same day a transatlantic parliamentary alliance against kleptocracy, comprising MEPs and US congressmen, called for sanctions against corrupt individuals in Hungary.

The report also comes ahead of next week’s ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on a new tool that would allow the bloc to suspend funds to member states for breaches of the rule of law.

This decision could allow the commission to block EU funds in Budapest and Warsaw.

Babis, Orbán

In their report, MEPs cited examples, including that of former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, cited in the Pandora Papers for using offshore financing to acquire property in France.

An EU audit also revealed that Babiš had improperly retained control of his agricultural and food conglomerate, which received EU subsidies.

Babiš denied any wrongdoing.

MEPs cited Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania as states where the uneven disbursement of EU agricultural funds was “very problematic”.

The resolution on the fight against the oligarchs will be voted on in plenary at the end of March.

In a related development, MEPs and US congressmen from the anti-corruption intergroup between the two lawmakers called on Thursday for EU and US sanctions against individuals in Hungary.

“Kleptocrats don’t just steal taxpayers’ money,” German Green MEP Daniel Freund and US Representative Tom Malinowski said in a joint statement. “They also systematically endanger the future of our democracies.”

Dániel Hegedüs, a member of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, told EUobserver that the report of the parliament’s budget committee was another sign that the parliament was the EU’s main institution in the fight against corruption.

But “parliament by itself cannot transform the political landscape within the EU”, warned Hegedüs.

The parliament also threatened to sue the commission for failing to act against Poland and Hungary on rule of law and corruption grounds.