Council of Europe
As part of the 5th evaluation round on preventing corruption in central governments and law enforcement agencies, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) released its report on the Netherlands on 22 February. It recommended the establishment of a code of conduct for top executive officials. GRECO also indicated that these officials should be required to report situations of conflicts of interest as they occur and that they should be obliged to declare personal assets at regular intervals. In addition, the anti-corruption body stressed the importance of introducing rules on lobbying and revolving doors.
On the same day, GRECO published the 2nd compliance report of the 3rd evaluation round on Bosnia and Herzegovina. This round covers incriminations of corruption offenses and transparency of party funding. GRECO noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina has made little progress since 2017 and called for further efforts to ensure the implementation of its recommendations.
On 28 February, GRECO published the 4th evaluation round compliance report on the Czech Republic, in which it concluded that the country did not satisfactorily implemented any of the recommendations on preventing corruption of parliamentarians, judges and prosecutors. Thus, GRECO urged the Czech authorities to take strong measures to instill a culture of integrity among the political class and to enhance trust in elected representatives.
On 25 February, in a joint statement issued at the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the President of GRECO and the President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CPT) launched an appeal to Council of Europe’s member states to intensify their anti-corruption efforts, paying special attention to its consequences on persons deprived of liberty.
On 5 February, Tranparency International (TI) published a report on the lack of transparency in decision-making by the Eurogroup. The NGO made recommendations to improve the accountability and integrity of this informal body that plays a key role in the governance of the euro area. In particular, TI proposed the establishment of mandatory public hearings of the Eurogroup President before the European Parliament, and the introduction of a code of conduct as a common integrity safeguard.
On 8 February, while a directive on the protection of persons reporting on breaches of EU law was under consideration, Euronews devoted an article to the difficulties encountered by whistleblowers, such as Ana Garrido. The latter exposed practices of corruption within the People’s Party in Spain, giving rise to the Gürtel case. Ms. Garrido said she was subjected to many forms of intimidation and underlined the need to better support whistleblowers at the EU level.
On 13 February, the European Commission adopted a new list of 23 third countries with strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks. As a result of the listing, the purpose of which is to protect the EU financial system, banks and other entities covered by EU rules will be required to apply increased checks on financial operations involving customers and institutions from these high-risk countries. The list includes Saudi Arabia, Panama, Nigeria and four US territories, among others.
On the same day, negotiators from the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission agreed to continue their discussions on moving towards a joint mandatory transparency register applicable to all lobbyists. Their aim is to achieve a political agreement between the three institutions as soon as possible.
On 25 February, Radio Free Europe revealed that the daughter of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman serves as a trainee with Aymeric Chauprade, a French MEP. The information was confirmed by Mr. Chauprade, a former member of the National Front. However, he denied that this recruitment posed any risk as regards conflicts of interest or European security.
On 26 February, candidates for the position of EU public prosecutor were heard by the European Parliament. Three candidates are in the running: the Frenchman Jean-François Bohnert, the Romanian Laura Kovesi and the German Andres Ritte. The Romanian authorities, currently chairing the EU Council, opposed the candidacy of the former head of the National Anticorruption Directorate, which was dismissed in July 2018 following government pressure. Nonetheless, MEPs supported Ms. Kovesi, recognizing her work at the service of public integrity.
On 4 February, Freedom House published its 2019 report on political rights and civil liberties in the world. Covering 195 countries and 14 territories, the report highlights that democracy is in retreat at the global level. Special attention was given to attacks on democratic institutions and the rule of law in the United States. According to the NGO, the administration of Donald Trump weakened safeguards against corruption and undermined the legitimacy of elections.
In the face of the challenges identified in its report, Freedom House made a number of recommendations. In particular, it advocated for measures to enhance the transparency of political financing and to prevent conflicts of interest among government officials. These measures are intended to enable better control over the influence of foreign actors on public decisions and national elections. Moreover, the NGO called for all states to implement sanctions against individuals and entities involved in corruption cases.
In an article published on 22 February, the NGO Accountability Lab reviewed the results of a survey on the impact of corruption on young people, led in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The survey, which focused on people aged between 18 and 34, found that the fight against corruption is considered a priority for this age group. Indeed, the Accountability Lab remarked that many innovative integrity initiatives are driven by politicians, journalists and activists from this generation.