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21st Oct 2018

MEPs want new EP group on transparency and corruption

  • An estimated €120 billion is lost to corruption each year in the EU (Photo: Images_of_Money)

A handful of MEPs are setting up a group in the European Parliament to tackle crime, corruption and transparency at the EU institutions and across Europe.

They want a so-called parliamentary intergroup where MEPs can discuss the issues informally.

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“We have now ended up with a list of a dozen MEPs who do want to work together on this,” said far-left Dutch MEP Dennis De Jong at a conference against corruption at the European Parliament on Tuesday (9 December).

De Jong, along with centre-left MEP Elly Schlein, Transparency International, Alter-EU, and Restarting the Future, an umbrella network of anti-corruption civil society groups, are spearheading the initiative.

Parliament procedures require that the MEPs have the support from the conference of presidents.

“That will happen this week,” said De Jong.

The Dutch MEP said they intend to take the corruption issue back to the European Commission.

The commission had earlier this year issued an anti-corruption report on the EU.

It found that corruption, especially in public procurement contracts, was widespread in all EU member states.

“We are not doing enough and this is true in all member states,” said Cecilia Malmstrom at the time, when she was still EU commissioner for home affairs.

But the report did not include a chapter on the EU institutions.

“For us it is still a partial report,” noted De Jong.

The timing of the new intergroup is of importance to the Italian anti-corruption delegates at Tuesday's conference.

Ongoing police investigations in Rome are unravelling a network of high-ranking politicians, businesses, and an alleged new mafia outfit. All are said to have scammed public funds out of immigration centres and social programmes for Roma people.

Luigi Ciotti, an Italian Catholic priest involved in the fight against the mafia, said corruption and the mafia in Italy remains pervasive.

He cited a study that notes over 60 percent of unemployed Italians would accept a job in a mafia-backed company.

“[Just] 11 percent of [Italian] students think the state is stronger than organised crime,” he said.

The issue goes beyond Italy and into the rest of the EU.

Conservative estimates by the European Commission suggest some €120 billion is lost each year to corruption.

Another estimate, put forward by Restarting the Future, suggests up to 5 percent of the EU GDP is lost to the around 3,500 criminal organisations operating in Europe.

Some EU legislation exists to tackle and rein in the problem.

Earlier this year, the EU adopted the directive on freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime.

But another EU bill, the anti-money laundering directive, is facing some problems from member states.

The European Parliament wants public accessible registers with beneficial ownership information in order to disclose the identities of people behind companies and off-shore firms.

Supporters say the directive would make it easier and quicker for law enforcement to track down the criminal money trail.

But the idea is meeting resistance from a number of member states who argue that access to beneficial ownership registers should be restricted.

Others are warming up to the idea.

The Dutch government on Tuesday announced it now backs setting up the public register, according to Koen Roovers at the Brussels-based Financial Transparency Coalition.

“It seems that the Netherlands from now on will argue in favour,” he said.

MEPs are set to discuss the bill next week at the plenary session in Strasbourg.

The bill was not on the agenda of EU finance ministers who met on Tuesday in Brussels.

Instead, the ministers reached an agreement on a directive on automatic exchange of information.

It proposes new rules to clamp down on tax evasion and fraud.

The scope of the revised law has been extended to cover the sale of financial assets and other income, as well as account balances.

"It marks the end of banking secrecy in the European Union,” said Italy’s finance minister in a statement.

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