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What does it take to get in trouble with the European Parliament?Â
The institution has a long list of rules governing how elected officials should go about their work, treat their staff, deal with lobbyists and cash paychecks.Â
Since lawmakers took up their seats in July 2019, 13 have violated the Parliamentâ€™s rules enough to be punished by its president. POLITICO combed the institutionâ€™s archives to pull together reports of offenses, which range from harassing staff to failing to properly report support from the Chinese government to, well, stripping on the chamber floor.
Hereâ€™s who made it into the Parliamentâ€™s black book for misbehavior, in order of severity:
What happened: In perhaps the most extensive violation of the chamberâ€™s rules, Monica Semedo, an MEP from Luxembourgâ€™s liberal Democratic Party, was subject to a 10-month investigation into how she treated her staff, resulting in a dossier of more than 100 pages detailing complaints about her management style. The allegations included â€œcountless offenses, insults, aggressive treatment, intimidation and attacks in publicâ€ by Semedo, an official from the Parliament presidentâ€™s office told POLITICO in January 2021.
The offense: Semedo was penalized â€œas a result of her behavior towards her accredited parliamentary assistants, which constituted psychological harassment.â€
The penalty: Semedo got a 15-day suspension from parliamentary activities (except votes) and lost her daily allowance during that period (which could have amounted to up to â‚¬4,860, depending on how many days she showed up for work).
Semedoâ€™s take: She told POLITICO she â€œnever intended to hurt or humiliateâ€ her former staff, to whom she offered her apologies, in a statement after the penalties were imposed. She said her â€œzeal and dynamismâ€ had transformed her office into â€œa tough work environment.â€
What happened: Italian far-right lawmaker Angelo Ciocca lashed out during a debate in October 2019 on Turkish military operations in Syria. Ciocca waved a box of chocolates around that, he said, Turkish officials had distributed to build up goodwill with MEPs, and then he stormed to the center of the hemicycle to throw the chocolates on the ground.Â He was called to order by Mairead McGuinness, the Irish MEP chairing the discussion, who said â€œthis is a house where we debate, we donâ€™t throw things around and we are not violent.â€
Offense: â€œAggressive and disrespectful behavior vis-Ã -vis his colleagues and Parliament.â€Â
Penalty: Ciocca was barred from parliamentary activities (except votes) for five days and lost his allowance money for 10 days (up to â‚¬3,240). He did not respond to requests to comment on his sanctions.
What happened: Greek neo-Nazi MEP and cofounder of the ultranationalist Golden Dawn party Ioannis Lagos took the floor in January 2020 to vent against migrant minorities in Greece. Pulling out a printout of the Turkish flag, he shouted, â€œWhat can you do with this flag? Well, here you go, you can tear it up.â€Â
Offense: â€œUsing abusive language and brandishing and then tearing up a piece of paper symbolising a national flag.â€
Penalty: Lagos lost seven days of allowance (up to â‚¬2,268) and was suspended from Parliament activities for four working days.
Ioannis Lagos (again)
What happened: Clearly unimpressed with Parliamentâ€™s earlier sanction, Lagos called in September 2020 for the â€œimmediate expulsion of all illegal immigrants and NGOsâ€ from the EUâ€™s Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. He accused NGOs of inciting â€œuprising and revolutionâ€ in the camp.
Offense: â€œHaving disrupted the sitting â€¦ by using abusive language.â€
Penalty: Lagos â€” again â€” lost seven days of allowance (up to â‚¬2,268) and was suspended from Parliament activities (except votes) for four working days. In an unrelated case, Lagos was arrested in April 2021 after the Parliament overwhelmingly voted to lift his immunity, following a Greek court ruling that found him and the rest of Golden Dawnâ€™s top brass guilty of running a criminal organization.
Lagosâ€™ take: The penalties â€œprove without any doubt the attempts to gag my free speech,â€ Lagos, whoâ€™s imprisoned in Greece, said via email. He said he â€œsubmitted and presented all the evidenceâ€ for what he said on the chamberâ€™s floor, and said about being penalized, â€œIf this is a sign of democracy, judge for yourself.â€
Ivan Vilibor SinÄiÄ‡
What happened: Ivan Vilibor SinÄic is a Croatian independent lawmaker who is part of a national squatter movement. He got himself in trouble in September 2020 when he took the floor to rail against poverty and call for universal basic income. â€œIâ€™m ready to do whatever it takesâ€ to stop countries â€œfrom going bankrupt,â€ he said before taking off his jacket. â€œIf we fail at this,â€ Europeans will be â€œstripped from everything,â€ he added, while apparently ripping away his pants.Â
Offense: â€œDisplaying a banner and removing articles of clothing on being given the floor, thereby being dressed inappropriately.â€
Penalty: SinÄic lost two days of allowance (up to â‚¬648) and was suspended from Parliament activities for seven days (except votes) and from representing the Parliament on official visits and trips for a month. He declined to comment for this article.
The COVID certificate rebels
What happened: Six members of the chamber were penalized in December 2021 for refusing to show an EU digital COVID certificate when entering Parliament buildings. The group included MEPs from left to right on the political spectrum: Christine Anderson (from the far-right Alternative for Germany), Clare Daly (from the left-wing Irish party Independents 4 Change), Stasys JakeliÅ«nas (a Lithuanian Green), Mislav KolakuÅ¡iÄ‡ (an independent politician from Croatia), Cristian TerheÅŸ (a Romanian Christian Democrat) and Mick Wallace (also from the Independents 4 Change).Â Â
Offense: Compromising â€œthe smooth conduct of parliamentary businessâ€ or â€œthe maintenance of security.â€
Penalty: The penalties ranged from the loss of seven days of allowance (up to â‚¬2,268) to a â€œreprimandâ€ â€” also known as a slap on the wrist.
The rebelsâ€™ take: Some, like Daly, accepted the penalty but stressed Parliament needed to hold a debate over the digital passes. Others were less accommodating. TerheÅŸ said his job was not â€œto please bullies with tyrannical attitudes, like [Parliament President] David Sassoli.â€ JakeliÅ«nas said he did not trust the certificate and wanted Parliament to probe both the origins of the virus and censorship in the scientific debate.
What happened: Czech lawmaker Jan Zahradil â€” who in 2019 was the European Conservatives and Reformists Groupâ€™s candidate for Commission president â€”Â was appointed as lead MEP to oversee the EU-Vietnam trade deal on Parliamentâ€™s behalf. The trouble was that Zahradil was also a member of an advisory council to the Federation of Vietnamese Associations in Europe, a group with ties to the Vietnamese government and the Communist Party of Vietnam, EUobserver reported in December 2019. After other MEPs complained, Zahradil stepped down as rapporteur.Â
Offense: â€œFailure to respect the [Parliamentâ€™s] reporting obligations . . . which might have resulted in a conflict of interests.â€Â
Penalty: A reprimand.
Jan Zahradil (again)
What happened: In addition to his ties to the Vietnamese government, Zahradil got himself in hot water regarding support from China. POLITICO reported that the Chinese Mission to the European Union had paid for drinks and snacks at an October 2019 reception of the EU-China Friendship Group, an informal group of Beijing-friendly MEPs for which Zahradil acted as chairman. The Czech Conservative lawmaker had failed to properly report this Chinese sponsorship to the European Parliament.Â After the report, Zahradil suspended the group but was nonetheless sanctioned by Parliament in July 2021.
Offense: â€œFailing to respect the [Parliamentâ€™s] reporting requirements.â€
Penalty: A reprimand.
Zahradilâ€™s take: The MEP declined to comment for this article. He told Parliament in January 2021 that he strongly rejected â€œthe suggestion that this group has served as a tool for Chinese propaganda, at least not under my lead.â€
What happened: Manon Aubry, co-chair of the Left group and former spokesperson for Oxfam France, took to YouTube and Twitter in October 2019 to call on the activist group Extinction Rebellion to â€œoccupy the European Parliamentâ€ to force lawmakers to impose tougher climate and social justice policies. Though Parliament penalized her just a month later, the videos are still up.Â
Offense: Compromising â€œthe maintenance of security and order on Parliamentâ€™s premises.â€
Penalty: A reprimand.
Aubryâ€™s take: Aubry called the penalty â€œvery unfair,â€ adding: â€œHow can you justify that I get sanctioned for calling for peaceful actions . . . while some MEPs that have direct interests and connections with lobbies donâ€™t?â€
What happened: In October 2019, visitors to the European Parliament whom Pierre Larrouturou had allowed to enter the building misbehaved. The French economist and Socialist lawmaker was sanctioned for his guestsâ€™ breach of the rules, specifically those that forbid the compromising of â€œthe smooth conduct of parliamentary business and . . . the maintenance of security and order on Parliamentâ€™s premises or the functioning of its equipment.â€Â
Offense: Parliament censured â€œPierre Larrouturou for the behaviour of certain individuals he had helped enter Parliamentâ€™s buildings.â€Â
Penalty: A reprimand.Â Larrouturou did not provide comment for this article.
MaÃ¯a de La Baume contributed reporting.