A senior Qatari diplomat has warned that the EU’s handling of a corruption scandal that has rocked the European Parliament threatens to “negatively affect” security co-operation and discussions about global energy security between the bloc and the gas-rich Gulf state.
However, Qatar was not threatening to cut LNG supplies to Europe or politicise gas exports, the diplomat, who has knowledge of the position, told the FT on Sunday.
The scandal centres on allegations that Qatar and Morocco sought to bribe EU legislators to influence policy. Four people have been charged with corruption, money laundering and being part of a criminal gang after police seized almost €1.5mn in cash at the homes of one current and one former MEP in Brussels.
The Qatari government has denied being involved. It has heavily criticised the EU’s decision to suspend legislative work related to Qatar but not Morocco, believing it has been unfairly singled out.
“The decision to impose such a discriminatory restriction that limits dialogue and co-operation on Qatar before the legal process has ended, will negatively affect regional and global security co-operation, as well as ongoing discussions around global energy poverty and security,” the diplomat said.
The diplomat added: “Despite Qatar’s commitment to growing the partnership further, it is deeply disappointing that the Belgian government made no effort to engage with our government to establish the facts once they became aware of the allegations.”
But the diplomat said: “We aren’t threatening to cut supplies or anything. We are simply saying [that] to stop communication in the EU parliament this way limits co-operation.”
The European Parliament scandal follows sustained criticism in Europe of Qatar’s hosting of the Fifa World Cup. Qataris have been angered by what they regard as an unfair singling out of the Gulf monarchy over issues such as labour and LGBT+ rights.
Officials in Doha have been preparing a review of overseas ties after the barrage of negative media coverage and critical statements from some politicians, people briefed on the matter said.
Qatar is the world’s biggest exporter of LNG and has sought to build a reputation as a stable and reliable supplier. Officials point out the state has never abused its pivotal role in gas markets for diplomatic gain.
For example, when it was placed under a damaging economic embargo by a quartet of its neighbours, including Abu Dhabi, Doha did not disrupt its gas supplies to the United Arab Emirates.
Its significance in global gas markets has increased after the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Doha being courted by European governments as they seek alternatives to Russian energy.
Last month, Qatar agreed to a long-term contract to supply Germany with LNG, and is in talks with other countries, including Belgium and the UK, on similar deals
The Qatari diplomat told the FT on Sunday that Doha did not mix business and politics. “LNG negotiations are not influenced by politics,” the diplomat said.
Qatar is a big global investor, including in Europe, and could channel its excess revenues elsewhere if it felt unfairly treated by its partners, the people briefed on the matter said.
Two senior EU officials told the FT they were concerned the scandal would hit ties with Doha, potentially including the bloc’s energy relations.
“Certainly, after the start of the war by Russia, Qatar played an important role for us . . . they helped us with gas,” said one. “Countries [such as Qatar] are in a position where they can choose who they work with.”
“I know that, because of what happened, it will have an effect. It will make the relationship much more difficult, much more tough. It is absolutely certain,” the official added.
A spokesman for the Belgian government declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Valentina Pop in Brussels