EU halts release of anti-corruption report

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Events in Romania have led the Commission to back the fight against corruption. But Frans Timmermans pulled the rug from under a report on the subject. [European Commission]

In Romania, politicians were preparing to legalise political corruption, and elsewhere the misuse of EU funds makes headlines every day. Sandor Lederer asks why has the Commission decided not to release an in-depth anti-corruption report.

Sandor Lederer is the director of the Hungarian anti-corruption NGO K-Monitor. He contributed to the Hungarian chapter of the EU’s anti-corruption report.

The country-specific recommendations of the European Semester speak of problems related to corruption in the case of eight countries.

Meanwhile, Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, informed the head of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) in a letter that he doesn’t see any point in publishing the report planned for the coming spring.

In his letter released at the end of January, Timmermans gave a lengthy description of the important steps the EU has already taken and how it plans to combat corruption without giving any effective answers as to why the Commission is not releasing the almost complete report planned for the spring and what it would provide as a substitute.

The report, first published in 2014, was a huge step being the first EU document analysing problems of corruption country by country. Of course, it could well have been changed in its form, mostly by adding a chapter on the EU itself.

At the time of its publication the report wasn’t welcomed by all leaders of the member states, thus it is likely that it was due to their pressure that the Commission decided to step back from endorsing the document.

This seems to be supported by the statement of Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas who said that “for the Commission, the fight against corruption is not in any way an attempt to interfere or offer value judgments within the political life in a member state.”

In view of this, it is especially pharisaic when Timmermans and Jean-Claude Juncker in their joint statement on the events in Romania declare that “the fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone”.

It is hardly conceivable why an almost complete and long overdue report should be shelved. It is distressing how weak the EU proves to be against the pressure from the leaders of the member states, especially as in this case it is about a report without any binding content.

One wonders about the chances of ever setting up the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, adopting a common directive on the protection of whistleblowers or for the OLAF to be given proper capacities, if the publication of an anticorruption report proves to be so difficult.

This is extremely worrying in times when citizens’ trust towards EU institutions is at an all-time low and almost the whole continent is challenged by the spread of Euroscepticism and rightwing radicalism.

A regular report naming the obstacles to good governance and integrity both in the member states and at EU institutions and providing recommendations for improvements could have been the basis for a sound roadmap against corruption in the EU.

It is European taxpayer money that is spent by national governments and EU bodies every day. Transparency and the fight against the misuse of these funds have to be the top priority at all levels of governance.

The EU’s role in this battle is crucial since there is no other institution that could play a significant role in cracking down on corrupt governments that waste the community’s funds and in setting meaningful benchmarks of transparency and accountability.

Although it was encouraging to see how fellow EU citizens from Romania managed to force their MPs to withdraw the act to legalise political corruption, Brussels should not wait until the Schuman roundabout is filled with disgruntled masses.