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On Thursday 3rdMay, the anti-corruption body of the Council of Europe (the Group of States against Corruption, henceforth GRECO or “the Group”) presented its 18thGeneral Activity Report for the year 2017 as a result of the end of its 4thEvaluation Round. The President Marin Mrčela opened the meeting by remaking that “2017 was a dark year for anti-corruption” as proved by the three key trends analysed by the Group and explained here below.

First, repressive aspects of fighting corruption have largely overcome preventive mechanisms whose strength and effectiveness are too often underestimated by Member States. However, as highlighted in the Report, measures such as “effective asset declaration system, proper regulation of outside business activities, transparency about interactions with those seeking to influence the activities of public officials […]” are of the utmost importance to help elected representatives fulfil their public service mandate with integrity.

Second, although the level of compliance with GRECO’s recommendations remains sustained, it is in fact progressively decreasing, showing that the actual implementation of the existing rules and regulations, as well as the new ones, is still a concern area for all the States involved.

Third, Member States such as Poland or Romania are reversing GRECO’s recommendations through legislative initiatives and reforms, leading the Group to reassess the new legislation and call once again Member States’ attention on the necessity to respect the Council of Europe anti-corruption standards.

Specifically in 2017, allegations or confirmed cases of corruption have occurred in many countries and institutions across Europe. It was against this background that GRECO continued to push for the implementation of a “solid body of recommendations to strengthen the prevention of corruption” specifically in respect of members of Parliaments, judges and prosecutors.

There is no doubt that corruption represents a serious threat to national bodies and institutions. The values on which democratic societies are built on, such as the rule of law and the enjoyment of human rights, are seriously undermined by corruption that also affects economy by weakening the capacity of States to collect taxes and discouraging investments. Social development is also hindered by corruption whose negative impact is particularly reflected in issues like poor education, health and social services.

By focusing its Report on parliaments, judges and prosecutors, GRECO has sought to investigate allegations of misconductin the most important institutions of our society

  • Parliaments: As representative of the people, members of parliament (MPs) are “uniquely placed within the State to lead by example and demonstrate the standards expected of those in public service”. However, they received a higher overall number of recommendations in the 4thEvaluation Round. As figure 1a shows, the 26 Member States concerned have been slow in implementing GRECO’s recommendations. According to figure 1b, the main area targeted by the latter is indeed “supervision and enforcement”, proving that these issues remain a major concern under GRECO’s review.

 

Parliament

  • Judiciary: Citizens turn to judges when they seek justice through the interpretation and application of the law. Needless to say, legal decisions and sentences have a great impact on people’s lives. However, if judges do not uphold the rule of law and do not comply with the high standards of integrity, independence and impartiality, the foundations of a democratic State may collapse. Figure 2a shows the level of compliance of 26 States with GRECO’s recommendations, while figure 2b shows that the main area addressed by the latter concerns the “recruitment, career and condition of service” of judges.

Judiciary

 

  • Prosecution: Since several prosecution systems coexist in the European Union (EU), it was particularly difficult for GRECO to assess prosecutors’ capacity to act independently when performing investigations. Figure 3a shows the level of compliance of 26 States with GRECO’s recommendations, while figure 3b shows the areas targeted by the latter. Just like highlighted by the key findings on MPs, “supervision and enforcement” is the main area of concern, meaning that the independence of individual prosecutors, for example from political interference, is still at the top GRECO’s agenda.

Prosecutors

 

The overall conclusion with respect to GRECO’s 4thEvaluation Round is that, although the existence of several good practices selected in the Report, effective implementation of the Group recommendations is still slow.

In the second part of the conference, President Marin Mrčela drew the public attention on a matter of topical and urgent importance that is strictly connected to corruption and anti-corruption, that is press freedom. Andrew Galizia – son of Daphne Galizia, an anti-corruption journalist who was killed in Malta last October because of her investigations on the Panama Papers and corruption in the tiny island nation – took the floor by denouncing the lack of institutional support to journalists who are exposed to threat, becoming targets themselves.

Andrew Galizia further reported that since 1992 two thirds of all murdered journalists were covering politics and corruption. This statistic proves that a journalist is murdered when institutions are weak and fail to investigate corruption, to prosecute it and ultimately to deter it effectively. Particularly with regard to Panama Papers and the latest Paradise Papers, investigative journalism has proved that “offshore system isthe system”, meaning that “shell companies are used to evade billions in tax and launder billions from the proceeds of crime and corruption”. It follows that unpaid taxes are invested into legitimate business, for example by financially supporting unethical construction companies that too often dictate the aesthetic of our towns.

When weaker democracies fail in their fight against corruption, they need to turn to Europe for guidance. However, the EU is not yet provided with effective tools to enforce law against highly networked and cross-border organised crime that has the opportunity to spread further. In this regard, upon the closing remarks of the conference, President Mrčela urged EU bodies and agencies to take a leading role when it comes to cross-border crime which currently grows in an “open field” of institutional weakness. Nonetheless, he favourably welcomed the establishment of theEuropean Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) that “represents an embryo of the EU system of criminal law”. The EPPO will mostly investigate crimes against the EU funds treasure but it is not excluded that, as wished by GRECO, it could also check on the integrity of national prosecution systems at the later stage.

Gabriella Cinque

For further information:

GRECO 18th General Activity Report (2017) : https://rm.coe.int/eighteenth-general-activity-report-2017-of-the-group-of-states-against/16807c0e91

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