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European Parliament’s Awards: Reflections Of Political Bias And Controversy

Allegations of politicization and corruption challenge the credibility of the Sakharov human rights prize and other awards.
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Sometimes, an award says more about the one handing it out than about the one receiving it. 

In 2019, when the European Parliament  awarded its “Sakharov” human rights prize to Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director, it was meant as a rebuke to Russian authorities, who had accused Sentsov of plotting terrorist acts. Members of European Parliament (MEPs) however considered him to be a political prisoner. 

There is always a fierce political debate in the European Parliament on who should be nominated for this award. 

Last year, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange made it as one of three Sakharov prize finalists. This was partially a result of the support of Italy’s “anti-establishment” Five Star Movement, which described the finalists’ vote result as a “big political victory against indifference towards the WikiLeaks founder,” who is currently risking 175 years in prison in the United States. In turn, the EP’s GUE group backed the Colombian Truth Commission “for its work shedding light on atrocities committed in Colombia’s armed conflict.”

The Sakharov Prize faced controversy as far back as 2014, when an alliance of left-wing MEPs had to hastily withdraw one of its candidates, Alaa Abdel Fatah, had called for the murder of Jews in a tweet two years prior.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj speaks live to visitors and members of the European Parliament during the Sakharov Prize ceremony. (Photo by Philipp von Ditfurth/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, there have been reports of possible corruption with the attribution of this Prize. 

According to the FT, investigators of the Qatargate scandal have alleged that former MEP Panzeri and his group may have been able to influence votes against two Moroccan activists shortlisted for the EP’s Sakharov human rights award both in 2018 and in 2021. 

During the 2021 selection process, they would have managed to get the Socialists in the European Parliament to support a Bolivian candidate nominated by the right, instead of a Moroccan nominee put forward by the left.

Family photo of the attendees on stage during the preview of Carla Simon’s film ‘Alcarras’, on February 26, 2022, in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain. (Photo By Marc Carnice/defoto/Europa Press via Getty Images)

This is only one of the many prizes the European Parliament awards. The same kind of politicization is visible with the European Parliament’s film prize. 

A film screening of a film in Catalan language provoked a debate on whether this was not an official EU language. 


Produced in association with Brussels Report

Edited by Jessi Rexroad Shull and Sterling Creighton Beard

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