Thursday

22nd Nov 2018

Opinion

How the EU reneged on its anti-corruption promises

  • The real change has been the political leadership under Juncker

While hundreds of thousands protested the weakening of anti-corruption laws in Romania last week, the European Commission was reneging on its commitments and quietly axing an innovative report that put the spotlight on corruption across the EU.

Like all EU innovations, it started with a crisis.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Thousands protested the weakening of anti-corruption laws in Romania last week, as the European Commission axed its report (Photo: Reuters)

Back in 2011, the EU was being battered by the headwinds of an economic crisis that threatened the survival of the euro and the bloc itself.

Corruption was seen, rightly, as one of the sources of all this turbulence and no-one was spared blame: Greek politicians, German and UK bankers, Irish property developers, Spanish bureaucrats - the bailouts and subsequent enquiries revealed graft and failures of governance on a continental scale.

It was in this climate that the European Commission committed to publish a report that would monitor how all 28 member states were faring in the fight against corruption.

It looked like a modest step, but it was a major departure from the Commission's normal reluctance to call out member states on a topic so politically sensitive.

True, this naming and shaming approach had been applied to the bloc's most recent additions, Romania and Bulgaria, since 2007, but now the idea was to apply the same standards to founding members and newcomers alike.

When the report finally saw the light of day three years later, it was a mixed bag.

Coming in at over 300 pages, it was an unwieldy tome and written in an obfuscating bureaucratese. But for those who persevered the picture was pretty damning.

No-one could be left in any doubt that this was a serious EU-wide issue. It showed, as the then home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem put it, that “there is no ‘corruption-free’ zone in Europe".

Axing the report

Fast-forward three years. The current Commission has unceremoniously axed the report, a decision communicated to the European Parliament at the end of January by president Juncker's deputy, Frans Timmermans.

Instead of a regular report, he writes, the Commission will tackle member state governments through its annual dialogue on economic reform, the "European Semester".

The European Semester only addressed corruption in eight member states last year. The rest got a free pass.

This is disturbing for a host of reasons.

It means the European Commission, unlike almost every member state, has no plan, strategy or other instrument to guide its anti-corruption work.

The report was supposed to inform its work, but now it is flying blind. Worse, it is giving the impression that corruption is only a serious issue in a handful of mostly new-ish member states.

This ignores the systemic problems in older members like Spain and the corruption of companies from supposedly “clean countries” like Finland or Germany that have often exploited the lower standards of member states under the Commission microscope.

What has changed in this short interval?

Juncker's leadership

Not the level of corruption in the EU which, if anything, has increased since 2014, with evidence of serious backsliding by Croatia and Hungary according to Transparency International’s research.

The real change has been the political leadership under Juncker, which has styled itself as a “political commission”.

One would be forgiven for thinking this means bold and fearless leadership, leading by example, and speaking truth to the power in member state’s capitals.

As far as corruption goes, however, it means ducking confrontation with powerful countries in election years.

Netherlands, France and Germany all go to the polls in the coming months, and the last thing the incumbents want is the European Commission giving more ammunition to the populists and their narrative on “corrupt elites”.

It also avoids awkward questions about the EU institutions’ own anti-corruption track-record.

This is understandable, almost forgivable. In these dark times, no-one wants to give succour to Le Pen and her ilk in their crude attempts to paint the whole system as a corrupt house of cards.

But the political expediency of this act will come back to haunt the EU in particular.

As countless surveys show, the EU remain a more trusted set of institutions that national institutions across swathes of Eastern Europe, in part because it is seen as a bulwark against the self-interest and venality of their governments.

At a time when the EU is struggling to win over hearts and minds in its traditional heartlands, a strong voice and visible presence in fighting corruption is the best bet to ensure its continued relevance and legitimacy.

Carl Dolan is director of the Transparency International's liaison office to the European Union

EU commission drops anti-corruption report

Transparency campaigners are livid after the EU commission scuppered plans to publish an EU anti-corruption report amid unfolding corruption scandals in Romania and France.

Challenges for new Franco-German eurozone plan

With both Macron and Merkel losing support domestically, it is questionable whether their plans will succeed. Even more so, given the opposition by the Hanseatic states, the upcoming European elections and Italy's political hooliganism.

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

News in Brief

  1. UK shell firms at heart of Danske Bank scandal: whistleblower
  2. Google pledges transparency on EU political ads
  3. EU urges Hungary to respect law on Macedonia PM 'asylum'
  4. Bannon's EU campaign illegal in nine countries: report
  5. EU court overturns Austria's anti-migrant law
  6. Kosovo punishes Serbia with trade tariffs in Interpol row
  7. Italy happy to 'confront' EU on budget
  8. Spain threatens Brexit deal over Gibraltar

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  9. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  10. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  11. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue

Latest News

  1. Revealed: 98% of EU 'expert groups' take place in private
  2. EU commission warns Italy on budget, moves towards fines
  3. Challenges for new Franco-German eurozone plan
  4. EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection
  5. Deutsche Bank dragged into Danish bank scandal
  6. New EU human rights sanctions to focus on Africa
  7. Boycott threats mount on eve of Interpol election
  8. EU parliament to renege on transparency promises

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  2. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us