Just as French President Emmanuel Macron is swooping into Qatar for the historic World Cup match between France and Morocco, the Gulf state’s corruption scandal in the European Parliament is making its way to Paris.
The French head of state ignored calls from opposition lawmakers — including former presidential candidate and Greens MEP Yannick Jadot — to cancel his trip in the wake of the allegations that have already taken down European Parliament former Vice President Eva Kaili.
It’s no surprise that the Qatar corruption scandal at the heart of the EU has become part of the political conversation in France, as Paris has had a decades-long special — and sometimes controversial — relationship with Doha in areas including security, energy and culture.
The Gulf state has also heavily invested in France and owns one of the country’s flagship football clubs: Paris Saint-Germain.
On Tuesday, the French government was confronted in the National Assembly by the opposition about the national rules on lobbying. The framework, a Socialist lawmaker argued, is not fit-for-purpose to prevent similar corruption from foreign countries in France.
“The facts you mention are serious, it is up to the European institutions to shed light on them and draw consequences,” replied junior minister Olivia Grégoire, adding that the executive branch is open to taking another look at the rules to make them stronger.
The corruption allegations in the European Parliament have so far spared French MEPs. Several French lawmakers in Brussels including Manon Aubry and Leïla Chaibi from the Left group said they had been approached by the Gulf state but declined to engage.
However, France is far from immune from the petromonarchy’s influence.
Qatar has long-running close ties with France’s political elite, including former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
An ongoing investigation by the French financial prosecutor’s office is looking into potential corruption charges related to Qatar being awarded the 2022 World Cup and the role played by high-ranking French officials.
The World Cup has proven controversial in France, including with left-leaning mayors who decided to boycott the game. In November, Alexis Corbière, a leading figure on the left, publicly denounced Qatar’s intense lobbying efforts to change his mind on the World Cup, which he labelled a “social, ecological and democratic aberration.”
Nonetheless, in France’s Parliament, Qatar has emerged as a go-to destination for lawmakers, according to data analyzed by POLITICO’s Paris Influence.