EU Anti-Corruption Report update: will anyone be satisfied?

At last week’s anti-corruption conference here in Brussels to mark today’s International Anti-Corruption Day 2013, the European  Commission gave a quite comprehensive update on the upcoming first EU Anti-Corruption Report. The Report – which has been postponed ever since June this year – is now expected to see the light in early 2014.

The Report will feature one selected, general corruption-prone theme with relevance across Europe (this year: public procurement) as well as country-specific corruption risks in every single EU member state. From Council discussions we know that some EU member states – such as, for instance, Italy – have been criticising the Report, which is potentially one of the reasons for the delay and the ongoing discussions on the actual content of the Report:

IT followed by a number of Member States expressed concerns with regard to the methodology retained for the preparation of the EU’s anticorruption report.

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During the presentation, a wide range of areas that need particular attention in the fight corruption were highlighted (click on photo above for full size slide), such as close links between business and politics or the lack of training of public officials.

Initial findings and areas for potential future action were also put forward (slide below), including the need for enhanced whistleblower protection or for the regulation of conflicts of interest.3Dec_EUACR4

As interesting as it was to see the potential areas of concerns and the potential structure of the upcoming Report, it is also worth noting what was not highlighted:

Corruption risk areas, such as political party finance – highly important and thus politically sensitive ahead of the European Parliament elections 2014 -, received only indirect mention in the presentation. The chapter on “anti-corruption policies in EU institutions” announced by Commissioner Malmström in a speech in March seems to have dropped out entirely*.

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In the closing panel of the conference, Mr Manservisi, (Director-General of the European Commission’s Home Affairs department) shared his expectation that neither civil society nor national governments may be happy with the final content of the published Report. It is not clear how encouraging we should find this announcement with a view to the final recommendations that the Report will propose.

What is definitely clear after last week’s conference is: any further delay in launching the EU’s first Anti-Corruption Report in 2014 will lower the chances for the European Parliament to substantively follow up on the Report’s findings and for the EU Council to respond with a public statement, as would normally be the case.  We hope that the upcoming Greek EU Council Presidency (as of 1 January 2014) will encourage EU member states to follow-up with national anti-corruption initiatives, such as Greece’s National Anti-Corruption Plan.

If European governments are serious about promoting economic growth and employment in the years to come, it will be essential to foster anti-corruption reforms in all corruption-prone sectors and on all levels. Also with a view to the upcoming elections in the European Parliament, it cannot be in the interest of EU citizens and democratic governments to see the anti-corruption agenda being hijacked by extremist political groups. We believe that the fight against corruption needs to remain a common goal of all, including business, politics and citizens across Europe.

Drawing a Europe-wide picture of the state of play of anti-corruption efforts in the EU’s first Anti-Corruption Report is a good starting point, as long as it is a realistic portrayal. We will see!

*Our study on the integrity of EU institutions foreseen for next spring will address these issues in much detail.

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