The petition, with which more than 1,500 people asked the European Parliament (EP) to investigate the case with the cheap municipal home of current Bulgarian European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society portfolio, Mariya Gabriel, has been examined by the EP Committee on Petitions.

The has declared itself incompetent to rule on the issue and has sent the text to the EP College of Quaestors to be taken into account in the course of its work.

The College of Quaestors is the body responsible for administrative and financial matters directly concerning Members (MEPs) and their working conditions. It consists of five members – two from the European People’s Party (EPP), one from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, one from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and one from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. Its Chairman since last summer is Bulgarian MEP, Andrey Kovachev, from the ruling center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party, part of EPP. Gabriel is from the same party.

Thus, an issue of conflict of interest and misuse of public funds by a politician from the EP’s majority EPP party falls into the hands of an EPP-dominated college whose boss is a fellow party member of Gabriel.

Bivol reminds that as a MEP, Mariya Gabriel has used for years a cheap apartment for “loyal people”, provided by a company of the Sofia Municipality, which is also dominated by GERB. Gabriel told the A-Specto magazine that she had asked for assistance from the municipality to “store her things” i.e. to use the apartment of more than 100 square meters in an upscale Sofia neighborhood as a warehouse. The GERB press office said Gabriel had left the apartment in May 2013.

The investigation by Bivol, however, found strong evidence that Mariya Gabriel had continued to use the cheap apartment after May 2013. In fact, she stopped paying the electricity bills for the same apartment in May 2017. Taking into account the difference with the market price for the period from 2010 until May 2017, the said assistance from the Sofia Municipality could reach EUR 50,000.

Another fact established by the investigation is that Gabriel had not even declared this assistance to the European Parliament in 2012, despite the obligation to do so.

“There are clear rules in the European Parliament on how to declare gifts. If an MEP gets an apartment for under market value, this has to be considered an in-kind advantage and if it is not declared then it constitutes a violation of the European Parliament Code of Conduct and should be sanctioned,” Daniel Freund of Transparency International told Politico.

In such cases, under Article 8 of the MEPs’ Code of Conduct with respect to financial interests and conflicts of interest, “where there is reason to think that a Member of the European Parliament may have breached this Code of Conduct, the President may refer the matter to the Advisory Committee.”

However, EP President Antonio Tajani (from EPP) refused to address the Advisory Committee, and in Gabriel’s European Commissioner nomination hearing in the EP, “there was no mention of the rental agreement or any major ethics breaches,” as Politico‘s Brussels edition noted at the time.

The controversy surrounding the obvious scandal over the misuse of public funds and the conflict of interest of the future European Commissioner also prompted the petition that gathered 1,557 signatures.

By refusing to rule on this case and passing the ball to Gabriel’s “political family”, the European Parliament is now clearly demonstrating that there is no independent and reliable institution in Brussels to defend European citizens against corruption that has penetrated the EU highest levels.

Another aspect of the scandal that leaves a bad taste is that Mariya Gabriel has lied about the period during which she has used the cheap apartment. The irony is that as a Commissioner, she is now particularly active against “fake news”, i.e. media lies and manipulations she vows to fight.

Bivol will continue to monitor developments surrounding the petition and the stand that the College of Quaestors will take, although it seems predestined. Meanwhile, the investigation of A-specto and Bivol into Gabriel’s “storage” was bestowed the “Professional and Civil Ethics” award “Samuel Frances” in the fifth contest for journalistic publications in Bulgarian or Spanish “Worlds and Colors”, organized by the Association of Spanish-speaking Journalists in Bulgaria (SEIB).

 

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