23rd Oct 2016

EU to monitor anti-corruption measures in member states

  • 'Corruption accounts for at least as much as the EU budget,' says Malmstrom (Photo: Scott Shingler Photography)

A special report on what EU member states are doing to fight corruption and how cases are actually solved is to be drafted by the European Commission every two years, home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has announced.

"No country in the EU is totally free from corruption. Four out of five EU citizens regard corruption as a major problem in their country. This is a serious challenge, socially, politically and economically," she said during a press conference on Monday (6 June).

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The new mechanism, which will provide non-binding evaluations and recommendations of the countries' actual anti-corruption practices, not only adopted laws and norms - is seen as a pressure tool on politicians to live up to their transparency and clean government pledges.

With an estimated €120 billion lost to corruption every year - the equivalent of the entire EU budget - Malmstrom pointed out that showing resolve on enforcing anti-corruption measures has also a positive impact on the economy and helps regain confidence on the financial markets.

Corrupt practices, dodgy book-keeping and outright lying about the country's finances already have forced Greece, Latvia and Hungary to seen external financial aid. But bringing high level politicians to court and having them put behind bars for corruption is still a rare phenomenon throughout the bloc, and not just in EU's newest members, Bulgaria and Romania, who both are under a special EU monitoring in this regard.

While most countries have all the international and EU laws in place on fighting corruption, "one of the main challenges is the lack of commitment in enforcing zero tolerance for corruption," Malmstrom noted.

To what extent a non-binding, bi-annual report will help governments clean up their act, remains to be seen, but the Swedish-born commissioner kept confident that the perspective of "naming and shaming" will spur governments to clean up their act.

The first report is set to be published in 2013 and is likely to be structured on a theme - for instance public procurement in all 27 member states.

"The purpose is not to rank member states, but the information will be there, who is doing what, what are the best practices and the gaps," the commissioner explained.

EUobserver understands that this was a compromise to get the mechanism approved, with commissioners from big member states reluctant to endorse a ranking or a comprehensive report on the state of corruption in each member state.

What Malmstrom did succeed, however, is to base the report not solely on information stemming from national governments, but also from NGOs and independent advisers.

In addition, a so-called network of anti-corruption correspondents is to be set up throughout the EU and feed the commission with real-time information on high-level corruption cases, on judicial follow-up, on bribes and dodgy contracts involving EU and national funds alike, mostly drawn from what the media reports in a given country.

"It's very good news that for the first time, the commission will be looking at anti-corruption measures in all member states," Romanian centre-right MEP Monica Macovei, herself an anti-graft campaigner, told this website.

Existing mechanisms, such as the Council of Europe's group of states against corruption (Greco) only looks at legislation and bases its reports on what governments answer to their questionnaires.

"Greece, Romania, they are all great at adopting laws. But the problem is to implement them," Macovei says.

Her British colleague from the Liberal group, Sarah Ludford, also welcomed this mechanism because it will "at least" open the discussion about EU corruption, which "has long been the elephant in the room."

"Serious action to root out both corruption and its twin major threat to the EU, organised crime, is long overdue. For far too long, even the UK failed to visibly tackle bribery," the British MEP said in a press release.

To Austrian independent MEP Martin Ehrenhauser, his home country is no "A student" either. "Having a report on anti-corruption measures is a first step in the right direction. But it is questionable if big member states will allow critical reports," he said.

As with any piece of draft legislation or monitoring report, the EU corruption report will have to be adopted by unanimity in the college of commissioners. In theory, commissioners are not there to represent national interests, but in practice, capitals still have an important leverage on the final texts through their respective commissioners.

"As long as it's non-binding for us, we're fine with it. Corruption is bad, everyone wants to fight it," one EU diplomat told this website.

The main NGO dealing with corruption perception in the public and private sectors, Transparency International, also stressed that this mechanism alone will not solve the problem. With the various indicators and assessment criteria still to be defined, TI urges the commission to make them fast and flexible enough so as to reflect the "country-specific areas particularly prone to corruption" and to "publicly encourage compliance by outlining corruption risks, trends and possible weaknesses."

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