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For years, they have clashed with EU leaders who accuse them of violating the rule of law, oppressing minorities and having unsavory ties to foreign regimes like Vladimir Putin’s in Russia.
But now, as a corruption scandal engulfs Brussels, ensnaring a major center-left figure, Europe’s far-right leaders feel the shoe is on the other foot, and are going on the attack on a pro-EU establishment that they say he has presided over massive corruption while lecturing them on how to run their countries.
The upshot is that right-wingers ranging from France’s Marine Le Pen to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish President Andrzej Duda may try to weaponize the scandal into a political weapon, as leverage in rule of law disputes with Brussels. and to stoke anti-EU sentiment ahead of the European Parliament elections in 2024.
“We got dragged through the mud for a fully transparent and legal loan from a Czech Russian bank,” National Rally boss Le Pen tweeted, referring to a 9 million euro loan her party secured in 2014. “At the same time , Qatar was handing out suitcases full of cash to all these crooks who are supposedly in the ‘good guys camp.’”
In Hungary, Orbán, who is locked in an epic fight with Brussels over rule of law failures in his country, mocked the EU in a tweet of his own, writing that parliament was “seriously concerned about corruption in Hungary” for a photography. of world leaders doubled over with laughter.
Polish lawmakers from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is also at odds with Brussels over rule of law breaches, made a similar note, noting that MEP Eva Kaili, the most prominent suspect in the corruption case of Qatar, had been a vocal critic of his country.
“The question arises: Where is the problem of the rule of law? In Poland or in the European Union? said Dominik Tarczyński, an MEP from the Polish ruling party.
“The European Parliament is not a transparent institution and supporting socialists like Eva Kaili exposes the values of the European Parliament and ridicules this EU institution,” said Bogdan Rzońca, another PiS lawmaker.
Cries of hypocrisy from the European far-right came as Belgian police carried out more raids on Tuesday, sealing off more offices in the European Parliament.
Four people, including Kaili and his Italian partner, Francesco Giorgi, remain in police custody on charges of corruption, money laundering and involvement in a criminal organization. Kaili will appear before a Belgian judge on Wednesday.
Senior EU officials, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Parliament Speaker Roberta Metsola, have lined up to condemn the finding in harsh terms, vowing to crack down on corruption in all EU institutions, which employ more than 60,000 people worldwide. the block
But to the far-right, which in many countries portrays itself as the enemy of “lesson-giving” EU bureaucrats, such words rang hollow, saying that the allegations uncovered since last Friday only underscore the double standards of the EU elites who are quick to condemn Poland and Hungary but fail to clean up on their own doorstep.
“The European Union loves to teach the whole world lessons. Give lessons to Hungary. Give lessons to Poland. He even gives lessons to [European border agency] Frontex. It would be much better to start cleaning your own house,” said Philippe Olivier, a National Rally MEP and close associate of Le Pen.
The investigation is likely to attract more people, including from other political groups in Parliament, and would increase scrutiny over von der Leyen, who is under pressure over the terms of a deal he negotiated with Pfizer to buy COVID-19 vaccines. he added.
Less than two years before EU voters go to the polls to elect a new parliament, Olivier predicted the corruption scandal would have a political impact in France, where Le Pen twice reached the final round of a presidential election. , only to be defeated in both. times by the centrist Emmanuel Macron.
“People already have the feeling that the EU is a giant unsupervised rule-making machine,” he said. “This only adds to the picture, so I’m optimistic.”
Even on the left, some politicians acknowledged that the accusations, which have so far worried members of the Socialists and Democrats caucus in Parliament, would be damaging because they create an equivalence between socialists accused of taking money from Qatar and right-wingers who have taken money. . from Russia.
Jan Cienski contributed to this reporting.