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23rd Feb 2019

Complex rules make EU vulnerable to corruption, says report

Complacency and complex rules makes the EU's own institutions vulnerable to corruption and conflicts of interest, a report by a leading transparency NGO has found.

The 250-page 'European Union Integrity System', published by Transparency International on Thursday (24 April), is the first assessment looking at how ten EU institutions are dealing with internal corruption risks.

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  • Secret EU lawmaking and complacency attacked by transparency campaigners (Photo: Corporate Europe Observatory)

"The EU institutions have done a lot to put their house in order but strong foundations are being undermined by complex rules, complacency and a lack of follow up," said Carl Dolan, director of Transparency International in Brussels.

The report finds that "there is a good foundation in the EU system to support integrity and ethics."

"However this foundation is often undermined by poor practice, lack of political leadership, failure to allocate sufficient staff and funding, and unclarity about to whom the rules apply.

"The result is that despite improvements to the overall framework, corruption risks persist at the EU level. The most urgent of these include opacity in EU law-making and in EU lobbying, poorly managed conflicts of interest, weak protection for EU whistle-blowers, and weak sanctions for corrupt companies."

The report calls for the institutions to record a 'legislative footprint' of all input received from lobbyists/interest representatives for draft policies, laws and amendments (a ‘legislative footprint’).

It also urges them to publish all documents from each step in the process of drafting legislation, including records of the informal 'trialogue' negotiations between the institutions which take place behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the EU's Transparency Register for lobbyists should become mandatory and be extended to application to the Council and national embassies.

Speaking at the launch of the paper on Thursday (24 April), Dolan commented that "we are not assessing the level of corruption in the institutions but whether those institutions have the capacity to prevent, uncover and deal with corruption as they happen."

The image of the EU institutions has been tarnished by a series of 'cash for influence' scandals in the last five years. John Dalli was forced to stand down as the EU's health and consumer protection commissioner in 2012 over corruption allegations surrounding tobacco legislation.

In the European Parliament, an expose by the UK Sunday Times in 2011 caught some MEPs prepared to table amendments to EU legislation for money on behalf of lobbying firms.

Meanwhile seventy percent of Europeans believe that corruption is present within EU institutions, according to a poll released earlier this year by Eurobarometer.

The report also calls for enhanced protection for whistle-blowers and for the bloc's anti-fraud office, OLAF, which has been criticised by MEPs for its perceived close relationship with the Commission, to be given “watertight operational independence”.

"How can we be sure that Olaf can effectively prosecute corruption within the Commission when its independence from that institution is questionable and indeed when there are secret meetings with senior Commission staff to discuss on-going corruption cases?," questioned Dolan.

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