The “European Semester” may sound like a boring piece of Euro-jargon and if we say this is part of the European Commission’s new-ish macroeconomic surveillance programme that tries to keep track of the growth and competitiveness policies in each of the member states, that is unlikely to set pulses racing either. But there are good reasons to celebrate all this from an anti-corruption standpoint. First of all, it is a recognition by the Commission that corruption is not just a criminal justice issue, but something that hinders growth and continues to erode the competitiveness of the EU economy. Secondly, the basis for the “country-specific recommendations” on fighting corruption comes from the Commission’s own anti-corruption report published in 2014. This shows that the value of that exercise – one we hope will be repeated next year – and that the report is not just gathering dust in a Commission filing cabinet. Thirdly, the European Semester has been re-focused recently to prioritise the most important issues, and we’re glad to see that corruption survived the cut.
Unfortunately, there is a down-side. There are recommendations, but nothing is being done.
Today at the European Parliament (Tuesday, June 23) Commissioners Valdis Dombrovskis, Pierre Moscovici, and Marianne Thyssen will debate country-specific recommendations (CSRs) for 2015 with the Economic and Monetary Affairs and Social Affairs committees. This is ahead of the recommendations being sent to the European Council for endorsement at its meeting on June 25 and 26.
Many countries are issued with recommendations on fighting corruption but to date implementation has been slow to non-existent. The recent CSR scorecard for 2013 by the European Parliament revealed there was no implementation for any recommendation on fighting corruption (recommendations were issued to Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Italy and Hungary in 2013).
Among the CSR recommendations for 2015, 11 countries have been issued with recommendations that expressly mention corruption (Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia).
Will we see the same pattern of non-enforcement and lack of political will in these 11 countries next year? What does it say when member states can ignore the recommendations of the highest political body in the EU?
Now that the EU has correctly identified that corruption is a serious obstacle to growth, it needs to reflect on whether it is doing enough to see its recommendations implemented.
Although Greece will be the number one issue for heads of state at the forthcoming European Council, we should not forget the role that endemic corruption, lack of accountability and opaque finances played in generating a debt crisis in the first place.