These informal clubs, “sometimes sponsored by lobbyists or foreign governments, are not official organisations of the European Parliament”, the institution itself says on its website.
At present, their number is not formally recorded and their activities are not documented. But the MEPs who belong to them see them as a way of organising meetings, forging links and learning more about a country beyond the committee rooms and meetings tinged with official speeches.
In December 2022, the Qatarargate scandal involving 4 MEPs broke just days before the liberalisation of European visa policy for citizens of the Gulf state. The Friendship Group is still suspected of having been a channel for corruption, if not outright influence peddling.
The affair revealed the extent of the influence of foreign powers in the European Union. It has highlighted the crucial role of MEPs in political decision-making, in stark contrast to the lack of control over relations between parliamentarians and third countries.