EU level engagement with countries on anti-corruption issues – whether with Member States, countries that are candidates for membership, or the rest of the world – has frequently focused on institutional and legislative reforms, such as passing anti-bribery legislation or establishing anti-corruption agencies. There remains a significant ‘implementation gap’ between anti-corruption rules and actual practice, often due to the inability or unwillingness to make use of the available enforcement mechanisms. However, the EU and the European Commission in particular has not fully recognised the role that civil society can have in changing norms and achieving better implementation and enforcement. The EU needs to focus on faciliating anti-corruption efforts of governments in Member States and non-EU countries and on creating a space for meaningful engagement with civil society.
In recent years, the EU has experienced an escalating rule of law crisis where the values of democracy and political integrity have been seriously undermined in several Member States. Attacks to the rule of law have emerged in the form of high-level corruption and the abuse of power, including worrying attempts to weaken plural and independent media.
The Rule of Law is one of the values on which the EU is founded (Article 2 TEU) and it is essential for fundamental rights and civil liberties to exist. Therefore, when the rule of law is threatened, independent and impartial courts, open and transparent decision-making, accountability laws and mutual trust in the internal market are put in danger.
To prevent these attacks from becoming systemic and expanding to other countries, the EU institutions need to act accordingly to the treaties and protect their citizens and our democratic systems from undue abuses of power.
Making EU spending conditional to the respect of the rule of law is something Transparency International EU (TI EU) has been calling for many years. In the last decade, the EU has seen a rise of corrupt practices involving the use of EU money to finance anti-democratic activities. This is a threat to our values, and therefore, should be a red line for all EU institutions.
Together, the European Union and its Member States are the world’s largest aid donor providing over half of all global development aid. Development policy at the EU level is currently being revised in light of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Abuses of power and financial, natural and other resources continues to have serious negative impacts on development, aggravating poverty, conflicts and political, social and economic instabilities. Every year an estimated $1 trillion of illicit financial flows leave developing countries in the form of tax evasion, embezzlement, bribes, money laundering and smuggling. These illicit financial flows are now rising twice as fast as global GDP, depriving countries and their people of resources that could be put towards achieving trans-formative sustainable development gains.
We want to ensure that EU development aid addresses and is subject to anti-corruption efforts. The EU needs to develop an overarching EU Sustainable Development Strategy that includes both internal and external action, including a plan of implementation, with concrete targets and timelines. This strategy should coordinate the EU’s overall achievement of the 2030 Agenda, each of the 17 SDGs, 169 targets and the use of agreed indicators, to help the EU and its member states focus clearly on what needs to be achieved, and how. The EU also needs to develop strong monitoring, review and accountability mechanisms and consider citizen-generated data to help track progress towards the achievement of the Goals.
A key challenge in preventing and fighting corruption is to detect and expose bribery, fraud, theft of public funds and other acts of wrongdoing. One of the most direct methods of shining the light on corruption is whistleblowing. Unfortunately, whistleblowers commonly face retaliation in the form of harassment, firing, blacklisting, threats and even physical violence, and their disclosures are routinely ignored.
We work to ensure that the EU institutions are fulfilling their legal obligations to provide comprehensive and robust protections for EU staff whistleblowers. We are also currently advocating for the Commission to come forward for a proposal for an EU directive on whistleblower protection.
Corruption can negatively affect climate and contribute to global warming through the pursuit of personal profit over sustainable production. One of the leading causes of global warming is deforestation and forest degradation.
The link between corruption and deforestation has been almost universally recognised. Corruption within and around the forest sector undermines design, implementation and subsequent monitoring of policies aimed at conserving forest cover, while also jeopardising development goals and poverty alleviation in many countries.
The World Bank estimates that up to US$23 billion worth of wood is illegally cut each year, which results in lost revenue of US$10 billion. In some countries, 90% of all logging activities are illegal. As most of these forests are in the developing world, it robs these societies of precious revenue, thwarting development goals and keeping people in poverty. Therefore, besides deforestation, illegal logging undermines the rights of forest-dependent communities and fuels violence and conflict.
Current development aid programmes, aiming to tackle illegal logging and improve forest governance, do not adequately address the corruption challenges. Indeed, they can perpetuate corruption by partnering with corrupt companies, officials and politicians at the root of the problem. Without understanding the role of corruption in the sector and strengthening measures to tackle it, programmes aimed to improve forest governance are unlikely to succeed.
The European Union is a key consumer market for tropical timber coming from countries with high levels of corruption in fragile and/or conflict affected countries, and has bilateral agreements in place with many of these timber producing countries. Therefore, the EU is uniquely placed to promote and pursue fundamental reforms to tackle corruption in partnership with these countries.
The EU oversees an annual budget of approximately € 155 billion in taxpayers’ money. We are working to increase the transparency and accountability of how this money is spent by the both the EU institutions and national authorities to ensure that these funds are not misused.
The EU has uniquely close access to the countries in its neighbourhood and, especially, those who are undergoing the accession process. In its development efforts here, the EU must not forget to include anti-corruption measures.