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Brussels, 15 February 2012

Frequently Asked Questions: How corruption is tackled at EU level

How far back do the EU anti-corruption policies reach?

Corruption has been a focal subject in the EU for more than 15 years now. The EU defined active and passive corruption in its legal instruments as far back as 1996 and 1997, before wider Council of Europe and UN instruments had seen the light. In 2003, specific rules on combating corruption in the private sector were also adopted at EU level. Before 2011, two strategic papers on the EU policy against corruption were issued by the European Commission in 1997 and 2003, identifying priority anti-corruption measures in a number of related policy areas.

What are the remaining concerns?

In spite of the legal and policy initiatives taken so far, the actual results in tackling corruption across the EU remain rather unsatisfactory overall. This is illustrated by perception surveys such as the Eurobarometer on the attitudes of Europeans towards corruption, studies on the costs and effects of corruption, implementation reports on EU legislation and in the findings of monitoring instruments such as the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the OECD Working Group on Bribery and the review mechanism on the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption.

The current challenges faced in Europe and beyond, related to the repercussions of the financial crisis, including on the sustainability of public debts, make an even stronger case for reinforced guarantees for the integrity and transparency of public expenditure. The economic costs of corruption in the EU were estimated by a study conducted for the Commission to amount to approximately 120 billion Euros a year (the equivalent of 1% of the EU GDP). Corruption in the area of public procurement is a clear barrier to competition in the internal market. Studies have shown that about 20 to 25% of the public contracts’ value is lost to corruption. In the healthcare sector, research has shown that approximately 56 billion Euros are lost annually to fraud and corruption in the EU.

The most recent Eurobarometer on corruption released on 15 February 2012 shows that a high proportion of EU citizens (74%) continue to see corruption as a major problem in their country. Moreover, almost half of Europeans (47%) believe that the level of corruption in their country increased over the past three years.

How is the Commission tackling the current challenges?

In June last year, the Commission adopted a new anti-corruption strategic initiative (see IP/11/678 and MEMO/11/376), starting from the premise that a stronger policy is needed at EU level to ensure better tangible results against corruption.

In the Communication on Fighting Corruption in the EU of 6 June 2011, the Commission clearly stated that the main obstacle in successfully fighting corruption is the lack of, or at least an insufficient political commitment to tackle corruption. The necessary legislation and anti-corruption policies are largely there at international, EU and national level. However, more effective enforcement of those laws and policies is needed.

What does the Commission's new strategy do?

Through the anti-corruption initiative, an EU anti-corruption reporting mechanism for the periodic assessment of Member States' efforts to tackle corruption ('EU Anti-Corruption Report', see Commission Decision C(2011)3673) was set up. Starting in 2013, every two years the Commission will release a 'diagnosis' of corruption-related problems in the EU, pointing to critical issues and proposing solutions to help intensify anti-corruption measures and reinforce mutual trust among Member States. This is the first such mechanism in the EU. Based on the findings of the first reports, further EU actions may be considered.

Corruption raises many problems in terms of the identification of causes, the precise measurement of impacts and, most importantly, the effectiveness of counteracting measures. Several evaluation instruments which look into states' performance in the fight corruption already exist in Europe and on a global level. And yet corruption continues to thrive as a profitable 'business' in many places in the EU. The EU Anti-Corruption Report will not reinvent the wheel. The new report will build on existing knowledge in terms of evaluation of anti-corruption policies and add innovative measurement and assessment instruments to bring about real change. The assessment and recommendations of the EU Anti-Corruption Report should serve everyone (politicians, the general public, the media, and practitioners) as a useful tool, one they can use to push for results where others have failed.

Each report will focus on a number of cross-cutting issues of particular relevance to the EU level, as well as selected issues specific to each Member State which will be highlighted in country analyses. The report will thus comprise both cross-cutting and country specific recommendations. While the recommendations will not be legally binding for EU Member States, their follow-up will be monitored in subsequent reports.

How is the work on the EU Anti-Corruption Report proceeding?

The Commission set up, at the end of 2011, a group of experts on corruption that advises on: establishing indicators; assessing Member States' performance; identifying best practices; identifying EU trends; making recommendations; proposing new EU measures, where appropriate. The selected experts ( come from a wide variety of backgrounds (public and private sector, civil society, international organisations, law enforcement, judiciary, prevention services, research, etc). They do not represent Member States or their employer/organisation, but act in a personal capacity.

The Commission will also set up a network of research correspondents that will complement the work of the expert group, by collecting and processing information from each Member State. It will in fact be a network of contact points from each Member State including representatives of civil society, academia and researchers.

The EU Anti-Corruption Report will be managed by the Commission who will streamline information from a wide variety of sources, such as existing evaluation mechanisms, independent experts and researchers (as mentioned above), civil society, specialised networks, EU institutions, services and agencies, Commission studies, surveys (e.g. the Eurobarometer on corruption), other stakeholders.

What else is being done?

Apart from the EU Anti-Corruption Report, the Commission is promoting a cross-cutting anti-corruption approach in a range of internal and external policy fields. To name just a few:

  • Asset recovery. The Commission will soon submit a proposal for a revised legal framework on the confiscation and recovery of assets, setting out common harmonised rules to create a level playing field throughout the EU.

  • Public procurement. In December 2011, the Commission adopted a proposal for a modernised legal framework on public procurement, one of the areas most vulnerable to corruption. The proposal comprises 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.

  • Protection of EU financial interests. In 2011, the Commission launched several initiatives targeting a better protection of EU money against fraud and corruption: a Commission proposal for amending the legal framework of OLAF, a Communication on the protection of EU financial interests by criminal law and administrative investigations, and a Communication on a Commission Anti-Fraud Strategy (CAFS). The implementation of CAFS will be carried out in close coordination with the work on the EU Anti-Corruption Report. The latter will focus on the enforcement of anti-corruption policies in the Member States, while CAFS focuses on the measures under the responsibility of the Commission for preventing and combating fraud and corruption of EU funds.

  • Financial investigations. The Commission is currently working on a strategy to strengthen the quality of financial investigations in Member States and to further the development of financial intelligence shared between authorities within Member States, as well as between Member States and EU agencies and at the international level.

  • Judicial and police cooperation. The Commission is strengthening its cooperation 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 is also working towards a uniform EU system of crime statistics covering corruption.

  • Disclosure of payments to governments in the extractive and forestry sectors. In the autumn of 2011, the Commission adopted a legislative proposal requiring the disclosure, on a country and project basis, of payments to governments by listed and large unlisted companies with activities in the extractive (oil, gas and mining) and forestry sectors. The key objective was to enhance the transparency and accountability of governments and businesses exploiting natural resources (oil and gas, minerals and primary forests).

  • Statutory audit. The Commission promoted a reform process of the Directive on statutory audits of annual accounts and consolidated accounts to ensure that there are consolidated checks and control systems within EU companies, thereby reducing the risk of corrupt practices.

  • Enlargement and neighbourhood policies. The Commission continues to strongly promote a reinforcement of neighbourhood's countries' capacity to fight corruption and seeks guarantees for the sustainability of reforms in these partner countries, including in the framework of pre-accession process and visa dialogue, and is monitoring the efforts made by partner countries very closely.

  • Cooperation and development policies. A stronger use of conditionality helps promote anti-corruption efforts in partner countries and ensures that appropriate measures are taken regarding serious corruption cases.

For more information

See IP/12/135

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