The European Commission's first ever report on corruption in the EU's 28 member states, published earlier this month, was met with mixed feelings across the bloc, with some countries acknowledging shortcomings and others ignoring it or complaining of being slandered by the EU executive, the EurActiv network reports.
The Commission published on 3 February its much awaited 40-page anti-corruption report covering the overall situation in the 28-country bloc, coupled with individual chapters on each country, of approximately a dozen pages each. The package is supplemented by a 230-page special Eurobarometer survey on corruption.
The EU executive said that its ambition had been to launch a debate on corruption and identify ways in which the EU could help fight the scourge.
Germany: 'revolving doors' debate
Germany is the perfect example of a country taking the report constructively. The German chapter of the report received a significant amount of attention in the country’s media.
The rather positive results for Germany are singled out, but also the Commission's criticism is highlighted, namely, the lack of a 'revolving door' policy for officials. The Commission calls on the German government to introduce a law regulating the procedure by which top politicians move to the private sector after leaving office.
The governing Christian Democratic Party (CDU) did not comment on the report. Weeks before, CDU-politician Ronald Pofalla was criticised for taking on a job as chief lobbyist at Deutsche Bahn immediately after leaving office as Head of the Federal Chancellery and Federal Minister for Special Tasks. After the report's publication, the CDU's coalition partner, the SPD, once again expressed the need for political action.
In the near future, the coalition wants to introduce a "cooling off" period for top-politicians, at the end of their term, during which they would not be allowed to shift to the private sector. Here, the SPD party suggests 18 months, the CDU only 6. The opposition in the German Bundestag fears the announced regulation would turn out too soft.
German NGOs are also calling for strong anti-corruption regulations for elected officials. Transparency International Germany is advocating for a cooling off period of at least 3 years. Germany is also one of the few states which has not yet enacted the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) into national law, the NGO points out. Germany especially needs to reform laws designed to punish bribery of elected parliamentarians, Transparency International says.
France: calls for action
In France, the Commission report was widely covered by the media. But if they pointed out the high level of corruption in the EU and the bad performance of France compared to other countries, there was little reaction at the political level. The French chapter of the report pointed at a stalled reform of ethical standards, initiated by former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, aimed at abolishing the multiple mandates of officials (a French politician can be MP, mayor and MEP at the same time, sometimes holding four positions), the limitation of presidential immunity and strengthening the rules on party funding.
Green MEP Eva Joly regretted that these issues had remained unaddressed. Articles in the press stressed that the Commission should not only assess the situation, but state the reasons for the country’s poor performance on corruption. An article on the website Atlantico blames the complicated tax system, the heavy administrative procedures, the excessive power of the administration and the weak checks and balances.
Spain: calls for more oversight of officials
In Spain, a country rocked by corruption scandals in which the names of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and of members of the royal family were mentioned, the main newspapers concluded from the Spanish chapter of the report that the country must be one of the most corrupt in the Union. In fact, the Commission made no ranking on corruption among the 28 member states.
The main conclusion of the press, based on the report, was that more surveillance and control measures to combat corruption were necessary, in fields such as the financing of political parties and on the regional, provincial and local governments, where many of the corruption scandals occur.
None of the political parties made any statement on the report.
Italy: stronger anti-corruption rules needed
In Italy, the press wrote that the country was probably responsible for half of the €120 billion lost every year in the EU because of corruption. The Italian chapter of the report was widely covered by the Italian media, which levelled criticism at the country's layers of government.
Before he resigned, Prime Minister Enrico Letta and the president of the senate, Pietro Grasso, said they agreed on the Commission evaluations and ensured their commitment to improve the legislative framework. On the other hand, the president, Giorgio Napolitano, said Italian media had given a "distorted portrait" of the report, stressing the gaps underlined by the Commission without mentioning the positive elements recognised in it.
The press pointed at the advice from Brussels that Italy should strengthen its rules to ensure the integrity of political leaders and public officials at national, regional and local level as well as the laws governing the public financing of political parties, in particular by introducing more rules strict on donations.
In addition, the country "must refrain from approving laws ad personam", which encourages corruption, the report says. The Italian press wrote that the Commission was referring to legislation tailor-made to suit former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Indeed, the Commission report does not mention names, although the situations described are recognisable.
Greece wants names
In Greece, another country considered a symbol of corruption, the effect of the Greek chapter of the report made headlines for two days as it triggered political attacks on the government by affiliates of the opposition parties.
In particular, one opposition MP from the leftist Syriza party, Zoi Konstantopoulou, blamed the Commission for “hiding” the responsible government officials who were linked with corruption scandals mentioned in the report. The Commission had stated that no names would be mentioned.
Konstantopoulou referred to the so-called “Lagarde list” which includes 2,000 potential Greek tax evaders with undeclared accounts at the Geneva branch of Swiss bank HSBC. The list was named after former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who gave the list to the Greek government in 2010 but it became known to the wider public two years later. No official investigation was launched then.
“It is significant that, while special mention is made in the case of the Lagarde list and the responsibilities for the failure of two successive finance ministers to act … it doesn’t mention who the two successive finance ministers who failed to act are”, she said, referring to the former finance minister, Yiorgos Papakonstantinou, and the current government vice-president Evangelos Venizelos.
Bulgaria and Romania: report has little impact
In the two countries that joined the EU in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania, the report did not make big news, as Sofia and Bucharest are subjected to a monitoring mechanism since their accession, which produces regular reports similar to the new one.
More remarkably, the lack of mention of names prompted a Bulgarian oligarch, Tzvetan Vassilev, to write a letter to Commission President José Manuel Barroso and to several commissioners, asking him to confirm that the report did not mention his name and that of other persons to which a journalist had linked him.
Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s spokesperson Michele Cercone stated the obvious: ''We confirm that the country chapter on Bulgaria of the EU Anti-Corruption Report do not refer to individuals by name''. But another Commission official familiar with Bulgaria said that journalists were “free to interpret the Commission reports as they wish”.
Slovakia on the defensive, 'overhaul' coming
The report’s chapter on Slovakia received attention in the country’s media, giving the press another occasion to ask the government representatives why long promised anti-corruption measures were still not in place. No relevant voice questioned the need for such a report, although the Ministry of Justice deplored that it had not been consulted. As a result, its spokeswoman said, it is based on much “misinterpreted and outdated information”.
Richard Sulik, an opposition liberal politician known for his criticism of most of the “things coming from Brussels”, interpreted the report in the national parliament as an attack from the Commission which “has send a message that Slovakia is a corrupt nation” and that Robert Fico's government was to blame for that. In that way the report has entered the domestic political debate.
The report tackled a highly political domestic issue when it pointed out that Slovakia had been without a prosecutor general for over a year. This followed a political impasse when the president refused to install the prosecutor that had been elected in the National Council.
The minister of the interior, Robert Kaliňák, says Slovakia is preparing a more effective law on the protection of whistleblowers, but at the same time he stresses that to prepare a quality legal provision takes time. The financing of the political parties, another hot issue addressed in the Slovakian chapter of the report, is lagging behind “because of the talks with the opposition“, the minister said. The dialogue is needed so that the government is not accused of adopting measures to their advantage, he explained.
A substantial part of the report is dedicated to the judiciary, which is perceived as highly corrupt in Slovakia. The Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, is using the topic in his presidential campaign, envisaging a “radical overhaul” of the judiciary. The transparency watchdogs are sceptical of his rhetoric, however. Some, like Transparency International Slovakia, would also like to see more substantial “pressure” from the side of European institutions to tackle corruption.
Czech Republic pessimistic, yet consensus on action needed
The country’s chapter on the Czech Republic made the news in every major newspaper in the country, but most of them wrote only short articles with little information so as to illustrate the situation in comparison with other member states. Quite high attention was paid to the Eurobarometer results, in which Czechs came out as very pessimistic regarding corruption in their country.
Czech politicians paid little attention to the report, preferring to focus on domestic policy issues. Only one representative of the ruling social democratic CSSD, Vojtěch Mynář, (who is also an MEP), wrote a short opinion piece in which he called for more efforts to fight corruption and accepted the Commission’s recommendations.
Both media and politicians see the lack of a Civil Service Act as the main problem, a point also raised by the Commission, highlighting a wide consensus over the Commission recommendations.
Transparency international said Czech legislation was insufficient for dealing effectively with corruption, and that the country needed to make more efforts to implement existing laws, as well as on protecting the integrity of high officials.
“Without clear political leadership and professional security, the new legislation won’t be successful,” said Jan Bureš of Transparency International.
Poland: getting more transparent
In Poland, the country’s chapter was widely noticed, with all major media outlets reporting its findings. However, the issue was not taken up by politicians, who made no statements.
Patrycja Loose, spokesperson for the Justice Ministry, told EurActiv Poland that the country had climbed 23 ranks in Transparency International's corruption rankings over the last six years. She also said that one of the issues identified by the Commission's report, namely the work of the Anti-Corruption Bureau - were mostly related to its performance before 2009 and that most problems had already been identified and dealt with.