Tackling corruption in the Council: What is your EU Presidency up to?

Carl Dolan
2 December, 2013

The beginning of every January and July, when the rotating Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers (commonly referred to as the “Presidency of the EU, or EU Presidency”) is passed on to a new EU member state, is often accompanied by celebratory events around the presentation of the Presidency programme both in the national capitals and right here in Brussels. But how does it really work and what can an EU Presidency do to address integrity and anti-corruption issues?  

The Presidency programme outlines the presiding countries’ top priorities, its goals and political aspirations for the subsequent six months during which its role will consist of “oiling the EU machinery” – determining the Council agenda, setting its work programme, chairing meetings and brokering dialogue between Council the European Commission and the European Parliament, its counterparts in the legislative triangle of EU institutions. The current Presidency of the EU Council is held by Lithuania, which took over from Ireland on July 1, 2013 and will rotate to Greece on January 1, 2013. See the Programme of the Lithuanian Presidency here and the Programme of the Greek Presidency here.

Now, while the EU Presidency is a great chance for a member state to bask in the attention that the Presidency confers, it also presents many challenges for the presiding country in advancing its priorities, aside from organising the day-to-day functioning of the Council of Ministers. If you then add to this mix the fact that the Council of Ministers is generally regarded as one of the less transparent institutions of the legislative process (which alas contributes to the perceived opacity of the EU-decision-making process), and that a lack of political will coupled with back pedalling by member states often leads to an implementation gap it, becomes clear that the task of running a successful Presidency is a highly complex undertaking which deserves close scrutiny by civil society. All of this brings up several important questions which we aim to answer during the next 18 months:

How transparent is the decision-making process for the work programme of a Presidency? How do transparency, integrity and accountability commitments translate into concrete political measures? What is the Presidencies’ actual influence on the EU’s anti-corruption agenda and legislative process? And, most importantly: How are the EU Presidencies using their leverage to increase transparency and to advance the cause of anti-corruption?

To answer these questions we will track the activities and evaluate the commitment of each Council Presidency to the anti-corruption agenda on a selected range of anti-corruption topics. The topics will be chosen in consultation with our colleagues at the TI National Chapters in the presiding member states and in line with the priorities of the TI movement. At the beginning of each Presidency we will outline these topics in the form of a position paper. This blog post marks the start with the publication of the position paper for the Lithuanian Presidency.

The issues that have been chosen for closer inspection within the Lithuanian presidency are:

  • The financing of European political parties
  • Greater transparency in how governments spend their money (Public Procurement)
  • Anti-money laundering,
  • A European office that will prosecute corruption and fraud in EU funds
  • A directive that will oblige companies to report on their anti-bribery efforts
  • Greater openness about the EU’s foreign policy with neighbouring countries in Eastern Europe and the southern Caucasus – Just last week the resounding failure to pull in the Ukraine at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius highlighted once more the narrow confines within which the EU has to operate when faced with hard realpolitik. This further jeopardises the fight against corruption in the Ukraine and represents a worrying return to the politics of the Cold War.

We will publish our assessment of each Presidency’s efforts in the form of a Presidency scorecard every six months. This scorecard will evaluate the anti-corruption track-record of the Council under each Presidency and it will go a long way in answering the questions that are important for us at Transparency International EU. The first Presidency Scorecard will assess Lithuania’s EU Presidency and will be published in early 2014. Watch this space to stay in the loop and to see whether and how the EU Presidencies are doing their part to advance the cause of anti-corruption! 

Picture by Kalense Kid (Flickr) / BY-NC-SA 2.0

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