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Brussels, 6 June 2011

Commission steps up efforts to forge a comprehensive anti-corruption policy at EU level

Why is the Commission proposing to boost anti-corruption policy at EU level?

With the adoption of the Stockholm Programme, Member States agreed to give the Commission a political mandate to measure efforts in the fight against corruption and to develop a comprehensive anti-corruption policy, in close cooperation with the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).

The Union has a general right to act in the field of anti-corruption policies within the limits established by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). In particular, the EU should ensure a high level of security, including through prevention and combating of crime and approximation of criminal laws. Corruption is one of the particularly serious crimes that has a cross-border dimension. It is often linked to other form of serious crime, such as trafficking in drugs and human beings, and cannot be adequately addressed by Member States alone.

What is the existing anti-corruption framework?

A number of anti-corruption legal instruments are already in place at EU, European and international level, but implementation within EU Member States remains overall insufficient.

  • Several EU Member States have ratified all or most of the existing international anti-corruption instruments. However, three EU Member States (Austria, Germany, Italy) have not ratified the Council of Europe's Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, twelve have not ratified its additional Protocol (Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Spain) and seven have not ratified the Civil Law Convention on Corruption (Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and the UK). Three Member States have not yet ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (The Czech Republic, Germany, and Ireland ). Five EU Member States (Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, and Romania) have not ratified the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

  • The Commission urges Member States that have not ratified those instruments to do so without delay and to fully implement them. In the case of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the Commission also pledges to analyse possible difficulties encountered by non-OECD EU Member States in the ratification process, as well as deficiencies in implementation and enforcement.

  • Within the EU, the 2003 Framework Decision (2003/568/JHA) on combating corruption in the private sector aims to criminalise both active and passive bribery. However, the second implementation report accompanying this Communication shows that transposition of this decision is still not satisfactory. Several Member States have still not transposed the most detailed provisions on criminalisation of all elements of active and passive bribery and the provisions on the liability of legal persons.

  • The Commission urges Member States to fully transpose all provisions of the 2003 Framework Decision without delay. Depending on progress, the Commission will consider proposing a Directive replacing the Framework Decision. At the same time, the Commission intends to further develop private-public dialogue at EU level on how to prevent corruption within the business sector. Private undertakings are encouraged to develop and implement clear common standard rules for their respective fields on accounting, internal audit, codes of conduct and protection of whistleblowers.

How can a Report generate progress in the fight against corruption?

Monitoring performances in the fight against corruption through a form of reporting can help create the necessary momentum for firmer political commitment from all decision-makers in the EU. A number of periodic evaluation and assessment processes have been implemented in several EU policy areas, where they have brought tangible benefits for tackling key issues and addressing challenges faced by the EU and its Member States. In the past, we have also seen that monitoring by civil society organisations has played an important role in addressing problems of corruption.

An EU own mechanism will allow for the periodic assessment of anti-corruption efforts in the Member States with a view to nurturing the political will for stepping up anti-corruption efforts and reinforcing mutual trust among the Member States. It will also facilitate the exchange of best practices, identify EU trends, gather comparable data on the EU 27 and stimulate peer learning and further compliance with EU and international commitments. Moreover, an EU reporting mechanism will prepare the ground for future EU policy initiatives in the area of anti-corruption.

How does the EU mechanism fit with the existing monitoring tools at international and European level?

The EU Report will avoid overlapping with other tools already in place at international level, such as the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the OECD Working Group on Bribery and the review mechanism of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). These monitoring mechanisms have proven their use in bringing corruption related problems on to the political agenda and have led to improvements in the legal framework. However, each of them has several features limiting their potential to effectively address the problems associated with corruption at EU level.

Our EU Report is aims to create synergies with existing mechanisms, on the one hand, and to focus on the 'blind spots' of these mechanisms, on the other hand.

How will the EU Report be drawn up?

The monitoring exercise set up by the Commission will avoid duplication of work and will not impose additional burdens on Member States' administrations.

The EU Anti-Corruption Report will be managed by the Commission. The Commission will use available data and recommendations from existing mechanisms, but enrich them with civil society input, independent experts and researchers' analysis. Other sources of information from the Commission's services covering connected policy areas and various perception indicators will also be used to carry out the assessment.

The Report will each time focus on a limited number of issues and comprise:

  • A thematic section (on specific aspects of the fight against corruption in the EU);

  • Country analyses (including recommendations to Member States or for appropriate action at EU level)

  • Trends at EU level (with results of the Eurobarometer survey on corruption conducted every two years and other relevant sources of information on the experiences with corruption at EU level).

Why is the Commission also proposing that the EU participate in GRECO?

A combination of tools can achieve greater results. That is why the Commission is also proposing that the EU participate in GRECO, to stimulate political will among Member States and ensure a coherent approach to the fight against corruption in Europe. All EU Member States are already participating in GRECO, the existing anti-corruption monitoring instrument of the Council of Europe, but a reinforced cooperation between the EU and GRECO would create synergies with the newly established EU anti-corruption reporting mechanism.

GRECO's evaluations are confidential but its expertise would be a pivotal source of information for the Commission's Anti-Corruption Report. GRECO could, in particular, provide input to the EU monitoring mechanism in the form of comparative analyses of the existing GRECO evaluation and compliance reports on the EU Member States, and an indication of key outstanding recommendations requiring additional follow-up.

EU participation in GRECO was already outlined as a key element of EU anti-corruption policy in the Communication of 28 May 2003 and practical modalities were since explored. The Council will now consider the options identified in the Commission's report. On that basis, the Commission will request that the Council authorise the opening of negotiations for the EU's participation GRECO.

What else needs to be done?

Apart from a stronger monitoring and a proper implementation of existing legal instruments against corruption, the Commission foresees a wide range of actions at EU level. There must be a greater emphasis on fighting corruption in all relevant EU policies, both internal and external. For instance:

  • Confiscation of assets is a priority in the fight against organised crime, including in cases of corruption (see the "EU Internal Security Strategy in Action" adopted in November 2010 - IP/10/1535 and MEMO/10/598). In 2011, the Commission will propose to revise the existing EU legal framework on confiscation and asset recovery, notably by allowing more third party confiscation and extended confiscation. The proposal will also ensure that courts are able to effectively enforce confiscation orders in the European Union, confiscate criminal and criminally tainted assets and fully recover the corresponding values.

  • Financial investigations are an indispensable element of an effective fight against corruption and organised crime. In 2012, the Commission will adopt a strategy to strengthen the quality of financial investigations in Member States and to further the development of financial intelligence to be shared between authorities within Member States, as well as between Member States and EU agencies and at the international level.

  • As corruption is closely linked to transnational criminal activities, a better cooperation is needed at EU level between law enforcement and judicial authorities. The Commission will strengthen its work with Europol (to step up its efforts to combat corruption, including through regular threat assessments), Eurojust (to further facilitate the exchange of information on cross-border corruption cases) and the European Police College - CEPOL (to propose specific training programmes for law enforcement officials on how to best handle the investigation of corruption cases with cross-border implications). The Commission will also work towards a uniform EU system of crime statistics covering corruption.

  • Following a public consultation launched in January 2011, the Commission is considering putting forward a modernised EU legal framework on public procurement. This could include updated safeguards against conflicts of interest, favouritism and corruption, in order to enhance transparency and ensure that those who take part in a fair and competitive process play by the rules.

  • Reinforcing accounting standards and statutory audits for EU companies is an ongoing process at EU level. The Commission will decide on possible further measures, related to: the role and the supervision of auditors, the governance and the independence of audit firms, the creation of a single market for the provision of audit services, and the simplification of rules for SMEs.

  • Transparency and accountability are essential in the fight against corruption. The Commission will support, through its existing programmes, the training of media professionals to strengthen knowledge in specific areas relevant for the detection of corruption (e.g. money laundering, political party financing, banking, stock exchange markets).

  • EU cohesion policy will continue to support administrative capacity-building in the Member States, to help prevent corruption.

  • The EU enlargement process and the European Neighbourhood Policy also offer the opportunity to foster major anti-corruption reforms in the candidate countries and with neighbouring countries. In particular, the Commission will promote reinforcing the capacity to fight corruption and seek guarantees for the sustainability of reforms.

  • Similarly, a stronger use of conditionality in EU cooperation and development policies will help promote anti-corruption efforts in partner countries and ensure that appropriate measures are taken regarding serious corruption cases.

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