On 6th June 2011 the Commission published a statement on how it is going to deal with corruption at EU level. This will be done in cooperation with the Council of Europe of States against Corruption (acronymically known as GRECO).  The accompanying Press Release states inter alia:

"The fight against corruption needs priority attention. While there is quite sophisticated legal frameworks at international and European level, we have seen that implementation among EU Member States is very uneven. It is clear to me that there is not enough determination amongst politicians and decision-makers to fight this crime. Our Anti-Corruption Report can generate the political will to act by giving a clear picture of anti-corruption efforts and achievements, but also pointing out failures and vulnerabilities across the 27 EU Member States. At the same time, we should make sure that there is a stronger focus on corruption in all relevant EU policies. Fighting corruption successfully is a constant struggle, and the measures we propose today are only one part of a more comprehensive response to the challenges that corruption poses to our societies. I take those challenges very seriously. That is why I will propose further actions along these lines in the coming years, such as new rules for confiscating criminal assets, a plan for how to improve the gathering of crime statistics, and an strategy to improve criminal financial investigations in Member States", said Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs.”

The memo sets out in detail the existing anticorruption framework which helpfully it identifies. This is made up of:

  1. The Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption;
  2. The Council of Europe’s additional Protocol;
  3. The Civil Law Convention on Corruption;
  4. The UN Convention against Corruption;
  5. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

It lists which EU members have not complied with each of these instruments. A few have ratified all or most of them. It is a confusing picture.

EU framework decision (2003/568/JHA) on combating corruption in the private sector aims to criminalise both active and passive bribery but the Commission reports that the transposition of this decision is not satisfactory – several countries have not dealt with these particular elements of the offences. 

The Commission talks of urging governments to get on with the transposition of all provisions. It also seeks to develop further private-public dialogue at EU level on how to prevent corruption within the private sector.   

It further states that monitoring performance can help create momentum for firmer political commitment to fighting corruption.

An EU mechanism will allow for the periodic assessment of anti-corruption efforts by:

  1. Facilitating the exchange of best practices;
  2. Identifying EU trends;
  3. Gather comparable data on the EU 27;
  4. Stimulate peer learning;
  5. Stimulate further compliance with EU and international commitments. 

The EU Report will avoid overlapping with other instruments already in place at an international level. Each of those other existing mechanisms has several features which limit the potential to address effectively the problems associated with corruption at EU level. The EU Report aims to create synergies with existing mechanisms and focus on the blind spots of those mechanisms. 

The memo continues by outlining the way in which the EU Report will be put together. Its focus will each time include:

  • A thematic section on specific aspects of the fight against corruption in the EU;
  • Country analyses including recommendations to member States and or for appropriate action at EU level;
  • Trends at EU level with results if the “Eurobarometer survey on corruption” conducted every two years and other relevant sources of information on the experiences with corruption at EU level. 

Future efforts to combat corruption should include:

  • Confiscation of assets, which the Commission sees as a priority in the fight against organised crime, including corruption, across the EU;
  • Strengthening of financial investigations in Member States and sharing of financial intelligence between authorities in between Member States and EU agencies;
  • Better cooperation at EU level between law enforcement and judicial authorities;
  • Modernising the legal framework for public procurement, including safeguards against conflicts of interest, favouritism and corruption;
  • Reinforcing accounting standards and statutory audits; the governance and independence of audit firms; the creation of a single market for the provision of audit services; and the simplification of rules for SMEs
  • The training of media professionals in order to encourage transparency and accountability;
  • EU cohesion policy will continue to support administrative capacity building in the Member States to help prevent corruption in the first place. The EU Neighbourhood Policy offers the opportunity to foster major anticorruption reforms in the candidate countries;
  • A stronger use of conditionality in EU cooperation and development policies will help promote anticorruption efforts in partner countries.

So, in conclusion, the EU is stepping up its anticorruption efforts. It seems to be a worldwide trend with several of the BRIC countries also showing a lot of political interest in changing the way in which business has been done in their countries up till now.  They realise that corruption is an impediment to international investment as foreign companies do not see those countries as a fair or safe place to do business. 

Many countries, including the UK now have 21st century laws, but that is only part of the story. What all countries need to do is to enforce the laws they do have effectively.  Otherwise the new laws are just statutory wallpaper. The UK is already doing better at this than it was 2 or 3 years ago, but its still far behind the US and Germany in terms of number of investigations and prosecutions, even on a proportionate basis. The UK has a long way to go before it can be given a really good school report. Quite how far the UK has fallen behind its previous rankings and why it has slipped behind other modern economies in the Transparency International corruption rankings is, alas, too long for this blog post, but one of us will be back soon with some commentary on recent findings.