EU anti-corruption strategy

Do we need an anti-corruption strategy in the Union?

We have at our hand a much more comprehensive diagnosis on the status quo of the fight against corruption, than before. The first anti-corruption report of the Commission was published in February, 2014 (http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/documents/policies/organized-crime-and-human-trafficking/corruption/docs/acr_2014_hu.pdf) and will be published in every two years from now on. According to the report, in the last couple of years, citizens of the European Union experience corruption on every level of government; despite promises to decrease it, it became even more prevalent. Almost a third quarter of European citizens deem corruption a significant problem and about every twelfth of them says to have been personal witness to some form of corruption in the previous 12 months. The damage caused by corruption in the EU’s economy is estimated by the report to be 120 billion Euros per year, which is about the same order of magnitude as the entire budget of the European Union.

Interestingly enough, the Commission’s report does not go beyond overviewing and criticizing anti-corruption efforts and deficiencies on the Member States’ part. No word is mentioned about the shortcomings of EU institutions themselves, even though the harshest criticism is usually formed around the topics of political cooperation and integration on EU level. Many criticize the extent to which European politics and administration is exposed to the influence of lobby groups; the transparency of law-preparation is also questionable, integrity rules concerning MEPs and various officers of the EU have numerous deficiencies, the revolving-door effect is an everyday phenomenon (that is, someone, who is an EU leader or leading officer one day and a lobbyist of an economic stakeholder coming to negotiate with former colleagues on the next, or vice versa), and the abuse of cohesion funds is also legendary. According to some news these questions will no longer be omitted in the next report. In the meantime we are not left without a diagnosis. Transparency International has made a report making up for the 29th chapter on the shortcomings of EU institutions, missing from the Commission’s publication. The TI report recognizes the integrity regimes of the EU institutions on multiple occasions; however, it does highlight serious deficiencies on the abovementioned areas.

After obtaining the diagnosis, the question is whether we have the cure as well. In the case of many Member States, the Commission’s report raises complaints about the lack of a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy that would bring together all the relevant policy areas. The question, then, comes quite naturally: If we think there are Member States where this is exactly what is missing to effectively step up in the fight against corruption and given that we have progressed a lot in exploring the problems, isn’t it time for a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy to be made for the whole of the European Union that would include all the relevant EU policies? Namely unsolved questions concerning the integrity of EU institutions as well as their exemption from non-transparent economic influence, problems relating to corruption activities in the use of cohesion funds, and measures in connection with the harmonization of legislation on EU level, which are necessary for the improvement of Member States in stepping up against corruption.

The Commission has already been invited in 2014 by the Council’s Stockholm Programme, a program of internal and judicial affairs for the 2010-2014 period, to make a comprehensive public policy strategy for fighting against corruption. In section 4.4.5. the Programme states the following: “The European Council invites the Commission to develop indicators, on the basis of existing systems and common criteria, to measure efforts in the fight against corruption, in particular in the areas of the acquis (public procurement, financial control, etc) and to develop a comprehensive anti-corruption policy, in close cooperation with the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).”

As we can see, the first part of the task set out in the Stockholm Programme was completed; the result is the anti-corruption report published every two years. There have been developments regarding the second part as well; however, those are not even remotely complete.

In July, 2011, the Commission published an “anti-corruption package” (http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/fight_against_fraud/fight_against_corruption/lf0004_en.htm). It is especially the first part of this document, “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee – Fighting Corruption in the EU,” that can be seen as a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy. (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52011DC0308&from=EN)

The most important items in this document are the followings:

  1. Monitoring anti-corruption policies, EU anti-corruption report
  2. The implementation of the 2003/568 Council Framework Decision (corruption in the private sector)
  • Police and judicature cooperation
  1. Whistleblower-protection
  2. Regulation of company accountancy and auditing
  3. Political corruption
  • Protection of EU resources from corruption
  • Anti-corruption policies in relation to neighbouring countries and states in the pre-accession phase
  1. Anti-corruption in development policy
  2. Trade policies

The elaboration on these topics is quite schematic, but the document serves as an eligible basis for creating substance to anti-corruption policies on these fields. Many stakeholders deemed the package a promising first step towards creating a European anti-corruption strategy, emphasizing that a much more elaborate and ambitious approach should be taken. (Here is the reaction of Transparany International to the package: www.transparencyinternational.eu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/2011-06-06-Transparency-International-Press-Release-EU-anti-corruption-package.pdf).

On the 15th of September, 2011, The European Parliament’s response to the package was its resolution “Closing the gap between anti-corruption law and reality” (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2011-0388+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN). The resolution welcomed the package on the whole; however, it formed several questions and issued some warnings towards the Commission on fields of anti-corruption that had not been involved in the package. The most important of these is the harmonisation of legislation in the area of whistleblower protection (although whistleblower protection is included in the package, there is no explicit intention for the harmonisation of legislation), the harmonisation of legislation in the area of criminalizing unjust enrichment, the strengthening of regulations on the use of funds, transparency and the conflicts of interests within the sphere of EU institutions, making the transactions of offshore companies and of companies with non-transparent ownership background transparent, and the annual report of the Commission to the Parliament on the status of implementing anti-corruption policies. There are two ways, therefore, to approach the creation of a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy: one is the diagnosis we have at hand, the other is the further progression of steps that were not sufficiently carried out. In a fortunate scenario the two should meet at some point.

On many points, the anti-corruption report of the Commission highlights the unevenness and the absence of a common minimum in connection with both the areas of regulation (transparency regulation and regulation on the freedom of information, regulation on corruption-prevention, i.e. regulation on the conflicts of interest, integrity codes in public service, financial statements) and crime policy. The report mentions in connection with a number of Member States, that through the means of corruption, organized crime gains significant political influence. The effective management of these problems would require a comprehensive approach with a vigorous campaign. Because currently, while the citizens of the EU sense corruption as a serious problem, the measures taken to step up against it or steps taken to actually hinder the fight do not reach the European public opinion. A great example for this is the Commission’s directive proposal against fraud from 2012, which made it obvious that not only public servants but also those with elected office fall under the scope of the directive. It would have put forward a common minimum in connection with holding responsibility in crime policies regarding corruption cases. The proposal failed because of the opposition coming from the Member States against the united criminalization of corruption cases relating to elected leaders, without the public ever having the slightest knowledge of the existence of the proposal or of the people making it fail. Making legislative measures necessary becomes completely futile, if the public is unable to see when they are initiated and if they can easily be tackled by the opposition of politicians with counter-interests. This is why a comprehensive strategy and a comprehensive campaign is needed. It is not only the problem that has to penetrate beyond the threshold of the average European citizen but also the proposal to solve it, because this is how the public can see who stand in the way of carrying it out.

This is what I will be working for in the Integrity, Transparency and Anti-Corruption Intergroup, which was approved not long ago by the European Parliament and will soon start its work.

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