European lawmaker Strasser on trial for corruption

Georgina Prodhan
Reuters Middle East

VIENNA, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Disgraced Austrian politician

Ernst Strasser goes on trial on Monday in a corruption case that

has undermined trust in European and Austrian institutions.

The former Austrian interior minister and European lawmaker

could face 10 years in jail if convicted, after being caught on

camera offering to propose amendments to European laws in

exchange for 100,000 euros ($130,000 a year).

Strasser, 56, was exposed last year by undercover

journalists from Britain's Sunday Times posing as lobbyists. He

resigned while denying wrongdoing, saying he wanted to protect

his party, the Austrian conservative OVP.

"Of course I am a lobbyist," he told the journalists in a

secretly filmed video. "This is a wonderful opportunity to learn

all the people, to have my own network, and to use this network

for my, for my companies. It's a very good combination."

Strasser, one of several once-mighty Austrian politicians

brought down by recent corruption scandals, told the journalists

he already had five such clients.

He later said in an interview he went along with the

"lobbyists" because he believed they were secret service agents

and he wanted to follow their trail.

The trial in Vienna comes as European politicians battle to

keep faith with the post-war ideals of European integration and

rejection of extreme nationalism that led to the founding of

what would become the European Union more than 60 years ago.

As the 27 nation bloc struggles to contain a debt crisis, a

gulf is widening between more affluent countries and poorer

members like Greece, which faces expulsion from the euro zone if

it does not maintain a course of harsh austerity measures.

Euroscepticism and nationalism are on the rise in many

European countries. In Britain, which has always had a difficult

relationship with its continental partners, talk that it could

leave the EU has begun to shift from the fringes to the centre

of political debate.

Less than half of the EU's half a billion citizens voted in

the last European Parliament elections in 2009, and a poll last

year found that 26 percent had a negative image of the

parliament, up from 17 percent three years earlier.

"Most European parliamentarians are as lazy as I am,"

Strasser told the Sunday Times journalists.

Three other European lawmakers were caught by the Sunday

Times sting operation: Romania's Adrian Severin, Slovenia's

Zoran Thaler and Spain's Pablo Zalba Bidegain.

Thaler resigned after the scandal but the other two still

sit in parliament.

Eight days have been allotted for Strasser's trial, which

begins at 0700 GMT and has drawn wide international interest.

($1 = 0.7717 euros)

(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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