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European Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
Tackling corruption – a European priority
Transparency International Conference on 'Tackling corruption across the EU: Principles into Practice'
Brussels, 7 December 2011
Let me start by saying that I honoured to be here today, and to have the opportunity to speak to such an impressive and broad audience.
Since I started my mandate as Commissioner for Home Affairs, I made corruption – or rather the fight against it – one of my key political priorities.
Today, almost two years later, I see plenty of reasons why that must remain a priority – for the European Commission and for the EU as a whole.
So, let me say a few words on the scale of the problem, on what the European Commission is doing about it, and on the challenges ahead.
The scale of the problem
The EU is in the midst of a global financial crisis, and attention is being paid – rightly so – to the need for a drastic reduction in public debt and a rapid and sustainable stimulation of economic growth.
But let us not forget, transparency and integrity are a critical part of the effort to stabilise our economy. Without it, we will not maintain the trust of EU citizens, of the markets, and of our international partners, in a time of difficult decisions and big sacrifices.
I am not being sensationalist when I say that corruption is a disease which destroys countries from within. It eats away at the cultural, political and economic fabric of society, undermining trust in democratic institutions, and weakening the accountability of political leadership.
There is also no doubt that corruption often paves the way for organised criminal activity, such as trafficking in human beings, in drugs and in weapons, as well as money laundering and fraud.
And corruption is present, in different forms and to different degrees, in all Member States of the EU. That is why a common EU response is clearly necessary.
According to the 2011 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, one third of EU Member States failed to exceed a score of 5 out of a maximum of 10 points for perceived 'cleanliness'.
Similarly, in a recent survey, to be published in the near future, almost three quarters of EU citizens said that corruption is a major problem in their country and that they expect politicians to take stronger action.
Unfortunately, it is not just a problem of perception. We estimate that the economic cost of corruption in the EU is around € 120 billion per year.
This is the equivalent of about 1% of the EU's GDP, and much more than the EU spends on the fight against organised crime, anti-terrorism, asylum, immigration and border policies combined.
So, corruption in the EU is still a serious issue, and one which in these times of financial crisis and budgetary austerity we literally cannot afford to ignore.
So, what is the European Commission doing?
The June 2011 Anti-corruption package
The first thing we have 'done' is to recognize that the necessary legislation on corruption is, to a large extent, already in place, either through international or European instruments, or adopted through national initiatives.
But legislation and reform packages are not an end in and of themselves. It is the robust implementation of these law and standards which will give EU citizens the confidence and security in the economy, and in the people who wield the most power, that they need.
With that in mind, the Commission adopted an anti-corruption package in June this year, as a first step towards a more strategic and coherent EU approach to the issue. Many of you will be familiar with it - in a nutshell, it looks for results on two fronts:
First, by setting up an EU Anti-Corruption Report, which will give an assessment of Member States' efforts to fight corruption - the first of its kind in the EU; and
Second, by putting a stronger focus on corruption issues across all internal and external EU policies. Or, in other words, by truly mainstreaming anti-corruption efforts into all other policies.
The EU Anti-Corruption Report, which will be published every two years starting in 2013, will aim to increase the impact of anti-corruption law and standards.
It will do so by reporting on thematic or cross-cutting issues, by delivering country-specific analyses, and by pointing to new trends and vulnerabilities at Member State and EU level.
Any recommendations made in the EU Anti-Corruption Report for how Member States should improve their efforts will be monitored in subsequent reports. And further EU policy or legislative action may of course be considered at a later stage.
The Commission also pledged to better mainstream the fight against corruption into a range of connected policy fields – from external aid to public procurement.
For a start, the Communication pointed to how we can better fight corruption as a crime, through closer judicial and police cooperation, modernised EU rules on confiscation of criminal assets and better crime statistics.
Yet, worryingly, two thirds of Europeans appear to believe that corruption is simply a part of their country's business culture.
So we must widen the net. There are tools at our disposal, such as stronger regulation of public procurement, an enhanced anti-fraud policy, working with candidate countries in the EU enlargement process, and greater use of conditionality in cooperation and development policies, to name just a few.
What steps have been taken so far to implement the anti-corruption package?
We are now in the preparation phase, laying the groundwork for the first EU Anti-Corruption Report.
We are therefore setting up a group of independent experts on corruption, as well as a network of local research correspondents to act as civil society and research contact points in Member States.
To strengthen our empirical basis, the Commission is also funding an ambitious 5 year research project that will look into anti-corruption policies, global trends and European responses to the challenge of corruption. And the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) will conduct a study on corruption in public procurement involving EU funds.
It is also positive to note that the Commission has taken some first, important steps towards the implementation of a wider anti-corruption policy, using all relevant policies. These initiatives include:
There are a number of other initiatives in the pipeline, such as legislation on the confiscation of criminal assets and a reform of the EU public procurement directives.
So, to conclude and to open up the debate:
We at the European Commission have recognised the scale of the problem, we have set out a way to move forward – by regular reporting and mainstreaming anti-corruption efforts into all EU policies – and we have taken some first concrete steps.
We have to be realistic about what the Anti-Corruption report can achieve. I am convinced that it can make a real difference, but it will not root out corruption in a year or two.
But even though times are difficult, the economic crisis is an opportunity to learn and an opportunity for politicians, public servants and private undertakings alike to show a joint and stronger commitment to fighting corruption. It is a chance to develop the tools at our disposal and to increase European cooperation where it is needed the most. We need a strong, sustained and European response to the billions being lost to corruption each year. We cannot afford inaction.
That said, much remains to be done, and it is only by working together that we have any chance of fighting corruption effectively.
The Commission fully supports the work many of you here today do to drive home to policy makers the need to implement anti-corruption policies effectively at all levels.
And I am counting on your pro-activeness, your ideas and your input to help the Commission develop its anti-corruption policy.
Thank you for your attention.