New Footholds in Brussels: A Report Reveals the Hidden Face of the Emirati Lobbyists in Europe

Murad Jandali | a year ago




Human rights organizations revealed that two institutions operating in Europe received vast sums of money from the UAE illegally in order to engage in illegal work for Abu Dhabi and incite against Qatar, following the recent controversy over a corruption scandal in the corridors of the European Parliament.

Leaked documents and European sources confirmed the Emirati involvement in the European Parliament scandal and the use of a Europe-affiliated lobby to orchestrate a conspiracy against Doha, including accusing it of offering financial bribes to European parliamentarians.

In December 2020, the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) revealed the growth of Emirati lobbyists in Brussels that support Abu Dhabi’s ambitions to be a soft global superpower, pointing out that the EU has not taken sufficient measures to confront these lobbyists that work on polishing Abu Dhabi’s image and covering up its violations against human rights, especially its bloody wars in Yemen and Libya.

It pointed out that the UAE is one of the countries that spend the most on lobbyists in the world, explaining that since 2017, it has made new efforts to form its soft power in the heart of Europe in order for it to have weight on the global stage in conjunction with its regional competition with Qatar and other powers.

At the time, the report reviewed several European research centers and consulting companies that contributed to the campaign to polish the UAE’s image and strike at its regional opponents, most notably: The Bussola Institute, which was established in Brussels in October 2017, data and disinformation miners SCL Social, and Westphalia Global Advisory, a Brussels-based consulting firm established in 2018.


Hired Lobbyists

After the investigations into the so-called corruption case in the European Parliament exploded and the alleged accusations against Qatar of providing money and gifts to a number of European deputies, in conjunction with a massive leak of news about the case, eyes turned strongly to two institutions operating in Europe and involved in the Emirati activities in it.

The European Microscope for Middle East Issues stated in a report on December 19, 2022, that both the Brussels International Center (BIC) and the British lobbying firm Project Associates are accused of illegally receiving millions of dollars from the UAE in order to pass Abu Dhabi’s malicious goals and incitement against Qatar.

According to leaked documents, the BIC was registered in the EU’s Transparency Register in March 2017 as an independent, non-profit institution, to research issues of insecurity, economic fragility, and conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and their impact on the EU.

It is also noteworthy that the financing of the BIC is a mystery, as since 2018, its total annual revenues have ranged from €300,000 to €400,000, all of which came from donations and membership fees.

The European Microscope explained that for years the BIC had refrained from providing any documents regarding its financing, stressing that the BIC is headed by a member of the UAE lobby in Europe, Ramadan Abu Jazar.

Abu Jazar is a controversial figure known during the past years for playing a major role in the formation of the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD), a fictitious network accused of money laundering, and headed by another Palestinian named Loai Deeb.

The GNRD, which receives great support from the UAE and the Palestinian leader, Mohammed Dahlan, has been subjected to investigation during the past years, and is still under strict investigation in Norway.

As for Project Associates, it is based in London and presents itself as a specialist in strategic advisory issues, but in reality, it is active as an Emirati lobbyist, according to the European Microscope report.

The company’s activities focus on whitening the UAE’s reputation and supporting its policies in European circles, including media polishing campaigns and contacting European representatives to mobilize support for Abu Dhabi.

The company also played a remarkable role in mobilizing pressure to elect Emirati Major General Ahmed al-Raisi, who is accused of torture and human rights violations, to head the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).

The company secretly employed former British officials in a campaign to support the Emirati General, which is close to the corridors of government in Abu Dhabi, including: Former British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, former Foreign Secretary Alistair Burt, former MP Richard Otway, and former Labour Minister Catherine Ashton.

The company was involved in completely ignoring its moral and legal responsibilities under the law by representing the UAE government and its officials who are being prosecuted in lawsuits for their involvement in the arrest, disappearance, and torture of many activists and human rights defenders simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression or doing their jobs.

By providing advisory services, Project Associates actively supports the UAE’s efforts to obscure its record of human rights abuses.


Emirati Conspiracy

In the same context, the European Microscope had revealed in another report on December 14, 2022, that the European Commission had opened a comprehensive investigation into suspicious relations between the UAE and the Belgian Ministry of Interior.

According to European diplomatic sources, the European Commission has received documents and evidence from Belgian and European judicial authorities regarding the deflection of investigations into suspicions of corruption by European parliamentarians towards the State of Qatar at the behest and intervention of the UAE.

The foregoing comes in parallel with the UAE’s remarkable media sponsorship of the corruption scandal in the European Parliament and the mobilization of senior tweeters and social media flies affiliated with Abu Dhabi to incite against Qatar.

Eva Kaili, 44, a Greek member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of the European Parliament, is still being held after the police confiscated about €1.5 million, which were inside bags belonging to her and her Italian husband Francesco Giorgi, 35, an employee of the European Parliament. Kaili says that Giorgi implicated her in this scandal without her knowledge, as reported by the Euro News website.

Qatari diplomats denied any role for Qatar in the money-for-influence scandal and denounced the focus only on Qatar, although Morocco and Mauritania are also suspected of being involved in the case.

The report indicated close and unusual relations established by Emirati officials with senior officials of the Belgian Ministry of Interior, including a permanent channel of communication with the UAE ambassador to Brussels, Mohamed al-Sahlawi.

It is noteworthy that rarely is much information made public at such an early stage of investigations, but sensitive information from interrogations and wiretapped conversations by the Belgian police ended up in the press almost every day.

The report also alerted to unusual diplomatic meetings that are organized periodically between the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the Belgian interior ministers, the last of which was on February 22, with the Belgian Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Jan Jambon.

In this regard, the chief press correspondent in the EU, Jack Parrock, confirmed that official investigations showed a major role for the UAE regarding the corruption scandal that called for deputies in the European Parliament to link their case to a Gulf state, according to what the Belgian authorities announced.

Parrock wrote on his Twitter account that he had received documents confirming that the UAE was behind a plot in connection with the escalating corruption scandal sweeping the European Parliament.

On December 14, 2022, a report by the Emirates Leaks website revealed, according to a European source, that some members of a European parliamentary delegation were coaxed by the UAE during their visit to Abu Dhabi last May to plot against Qatar.

The source explained that officials in Abu Dhabi identified a number of European deputies, who were presenting balanced positions on the human rights file in Qatar in exchange for strict positions on human rights violations in the UAE, with the aim of neutralizing them.

According to the source, a number of members of the aforementioned European Parliamentary delegation received financial grants from the UAE amounting to €150,000 in cash in exchange for cooperation with the Abu Dhabi plot, which was prepared months ago.

On the other hand, the website confirmed that the Emirati lobby in Europe has been active in recent months to incite against Qatar and succeeded in wooing a number of European parliamentarians through financial bribes, granting facilities, and real estate gifts.

According to the website, there is a smell of an Emirati plot to distort Qatar and improve Abu Dhabi’s record after Doha’s success in obtaining European approval for its citizens to enter the EU without a Schengen visa, which the UAE considered a unique gain on the Arab and Gulf levels.

The website believed that the UAE also took advantage of the angry European atmosphere against Qatar after its refusal to allow signs of support for homosexuality during its hosting of the 2022 World Cup in order to plot its plot during this period.

According to observers, the UAE campaign came as a response to the escalation of criticism of the European Parliament in the past three years by adopting official decisions against Abu Dhabi, especially its poor human rights record.

On February 25, the European Microscope for Middle East Issues published leaked documents revealing the suspicious activities of the Emirates to win over a number of members of the European Parliament, including: Dominique Bilde (France), Julie Lechanteux (France), Philippe Olivier (France), Tom Berendsen (Netherlands), Vera Tax (Netherlands), Markus Buchheit (Germany), Ernest Urtasun (Spain), Silvia Sardone (Italy) and others.


Soft Powers

Last May, reports prepared by experts in the Human Rights Committee of the European Parliament revealed how the UAE interfered in the affairs of European countries by forming lobbyists representing soft powers with the aim of influencing European politics.

These reports constituted a loud scandal for Abu Dhabi and its lobby in Europe, especially after it was circulated to all parliamentarians, officials, and diplomatic missions in Brussels.

One of the reports presented by Nicola Giovannini, Executive Director of Droit au Droit, included interviews with dozens of current and former members of parliament, diplomats, officials, academics, and journalists to explain the pressure that the UAE seeks to exert on the institutions of the EU.

According to the report, the UAE relies on soft power by establishing pressure circles with the aim of drawing a different picture of reality and persuading European policymakers to develop their own policy.

The report also talked about how the Emirate of Dubai helped the rich Russian class to flee with their money to the Emirates, days after the Pegasus scandal.

The report explained how the Emirati lobby is working on launching campaigns led by the UAE Embassy in Brussels, the Parliamentary Friendship Group, and a network of consultants to bring the EU’s visions closer to the UAE’s foreign policy.