The fear is that individual MEPs could seriously undermine the European Parliament’s position on sensitive issues such as Ukraine, Syria and Azerbaijan.
MEPs McAllister (EPP) and Inés Ayala Sender (S&D) have submitted proposals to the EP president Antonio Tajani to increase transparency of the trips and to introduce sanctions if MEPs seriously undermine parliament’s position. These proposals may be discussed in the autumn.
“A great majority of these visits don’t cause any trouble,” said David McAllister, a German member of the European People’s Party who chairs the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. “But there are cases of misconduct that can undermine the image of the EU abroad as people in some countries don’t distinguish between the Parliament and the EU.”
Politico explains that when MEPs travel abroad to meet politicians, examine EU-sponsored projects or observe elections, they usually do so via an official parliamentary committee or delegation. They can, however, choose to travel outside of the official set-up to countries in which they have an interest or have developed friendships.
"MEPs are free to travel on their own or in small groups and go wherever they want, but must do so under their own name, not on behalf of the Parliament. They can also use their own travel allowance (worth more than €4,000 a year) and must declare the trip if the host country paid for it."
But McAllister sees a problem, according to Politico:
“We have a recurring number of cases--in Ukraine, in Azerbaijan, in Morocco, in the Balkans, to name a few--where the positions of the Parliament are misrepresented and the local authorities and media are not able--or voluntarily avoid --to understand that the official European Parliament position is different,” he told senior MEPs on June 8, according to a copy of his speaking points obtained by Politico.”
Frank Engel in the spotlight
But some MEPs argue they shouldn’t have their right to free speech curbed by the EP. Politico wrote that the activities of Luxembourg’s Frank Engel in Nagorno-Karabakh may come under scrutiny.
In February this year, Frank Engel, an MEP for the CSV, went to Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus as part of a so-called friendship group with three other MEPs to observe a referendum vote on changes to the constitution. Nagorno-Karabakh is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighboring Armenia.
According to Politico, a parliament official said Engel’s visit undermined the official position of the EU, which didn’t recognise the holding of a referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh, as it doesn’t formally recognise the territory.