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2nd Jul 2022

Corruption failures also highlighted in rule of law report

  • The commission first-ever rule of law report highlighted extremely long criminal proceedings as hampering anti-corruption efforts in Italy, Spain and Latvia (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

The European Commission's first report on the rule of law, published on Wednesday (30 September), has raised concerns over the lack of effective anti-corruption frameworks in some member sates.

Corruption remains a matter of public concern in the bloc, with more than 70 percent of Europeans believing that their government's anti-fraud efforts are ineffective.

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The EU executive considers that it must be able to rely on impartial justice systems, robust legislation and media pluralism.

But two years after the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed for reporting on corruption, the commission found that Malta is still mired in corruption.

The investigation into her death has revealed "deep corruption patterns" as well as strong public demand for reforms, according to the commission report.

After the resignation of primer minister Joseph Muscat in December 2019, the country launched a reform package to strengthen the institutional anti-corruption framework - including the transfer of prosecution responsibilities from the police to the attorney general.

Similarly, in Slovakia, the new government elected earlier this year has made the fight against corruption one of its priorities, in the wake of the public outcry over the revelations made by the investigations into the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak.

In Croatia, the commission is especially concerned about corruption at a local level due to regional elected officials and the management of state-owned companies. In Cyprus, meaningful anti-corruption legislation is still pending.

Meanwhile, the report indicates that some countries, such as Hungary and Poland, have weakened the independence of their judiciary system and media freedom - reducing their ability to prosecute cases of high-level corruption.

"When serious allegations arise [in Hungary], there is a systematic lack of determined action to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving high-level officials or their immediate circle," the report finds.

Likewise, the EU executive identified "structural weaknesses" related to the existing asset declaration schemes and lobbying regulations in Poland - where concerns also exist over the independence of the main anti-corruption institutions.

Bulgaria

Meanwhile, the commission concluded that the "complex and formalistic" Bulgarian criminal system creates obstacles to the investigation and prosecution of high-level corruption.

That has been one of the key aspects raised throughout the ongoing protests, for which EU commissioner for values and transparency, Věra Jourová, voiced her support on Wednesday.

"When people are expressing such dissatisfaction and such mistrust, and a very clear feeling that it is not possible to receive justice from the state, then this is a serious thing to be considered by the national authorities," she said.

Additionally, the recent scandals in the Czech Republic at both national and European level have raised concerns that high-level corruption cases are not pursued adequately.

Following an investigation between 2016 and 2017 by the European anti-fraud office, the commission launched audits to examine possible conflicts of interest related to the use of EU funds.

The first-ever rule of law report also found that anti-corruption measures in some countries, such as Italy, Spain and Latvia, are hampered by extremely long criminal proceedings.

Meanwhile, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands are considered the least corrupt countries in the EU since they have built a reputation of strong integrity in their public administration and a culture of transparency - with few formal rules and controls.

Hungary drops sharply in global anti-corruption index

"Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage," Delia Ferreira Rubio, Transparency International's chair said.

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