Council of Europe
A delegation from the GRECO, the anticorruption body of the Council of Europe, visited Romania on 21 and 22 February as part of an ad hoc urgent evaluation concerning the recent reforms of the judiciary. The delegation met with public officials, legal and judicial professionals, as well as representatives of NGOs and international institutions. The GRECO underlined that those in charge of investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating corruption offenses should enjoy independence. Moreover, it recalled that the transparency of the legislative process must be improved and the principle of the separation of powers respected. The delegation will prepare a report, with specific recommendations, for discussion at the GRECO’s next plenary meeting.
On 13 February, the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, criticized the lack of legislative transparency of the Council of the European Union. She specifically criticised the Council’s failure systematically to record Member States’ positions during discussions on draft legislation, and the practice of disproportionately marking documents as not for circulation, or “LIMITE”. She remarked that its “behind-closed-doors” approach constitutes maladministration and risks making citizens feel excluded. Consequently, Ms. O’Reilly called on Member States to make the EU legislative process more accountable to the public, by opening up their negotiations.
On 19 February, Dutch MPs presented Mário Centeno, president of the Eurogroup, with a set of recommendations to increase transparency in the Council. These recommendations were endorsed by 26 national parliaments from 20 EU countries. The proposed measures included systematically publishing documents related to legislative deliberations; adopting more detailed rules on those deliberations; formalizing informal bodies like the Eurogroup; and reopening talks on the EU’s access to documents regulation. Mr. Centeno pledged to take these recommendations into account and to strengthen transparency in the Eurogroup.
On 20 February, José Manuel Barroso, former president of the European Commission, was accused of breaking his promise not to lobby for his current employer, the investment bank Goldman Sachs. His meeting with Jyrki Katainen, vice president of the Commission, who is responsible for competitiveness, growth and jobs, was perceived as an interest representation activity and its opacity was rebuked. As a matter of fact, there were no available documents on the subject of this meeting. The German NGO LobbyControl asserted that the EU’s transparency registeris full of loopholes and that lobbying in Brussels should be better regulated. A stricter and incentives-based regime was suggested.
On 14 February, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists(ICIJ) added 85 000 companies, as well as 110 000 shareholders and administrators, part of the Paradise Papers investigation, in its Offshore Leaks Database. This database, which was established thanks to the various data leaks that ICIJ has had access to, like the Panama Papers, now contains more than 785 000 offshore entities. Its aim is to promote transparency by helping journalists, researchers and citizens to find the true beneficiaries of economic arrangements made through tax havens.
On 21 February, the NGO Transparency International (TI) released its Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, which ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption. New Zealand ranked highest, followed by the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland. The Somali public sector was considered as the most corrupt. France occupies the 23rd position. According to the NGO, despite anticorruption efforts around the world, most states, especially emerging countries, are making insufficient progress. TI observed that states with the least protection for journalists and NGOs also tend to have the worst rates of corruption. The correlation between corruption and the reduction of space for civil society organizations was highlighted.
On 22 February, Global Integrity, a NGO that advocates for open governance, released its annual report, which takes stock of the achievements and challenges of 2017, while also identifying valuable lessons for 2018.