In September, the President of the European Commission delivered her annual State of the Union address, which she set against the backdrop of the European elections to be held in early June 2024. September also saw the adoption of the reform of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, including the introduction of a requirement for the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to declare their assets and all their meetings with interest representatives.
The Council of Europe has issued several evaluation reports as part of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) evaluation rounds.
THE EUROPEAN UNION
On 13 September, MEPs passed a text amending their Rules of Procedure and strengthening the rules on integrity, transparency and accountability. The reform provides for the introduction of a declaration of assets at the beginning and end of each term of office, tighter rules on conflicts of interest, greater publicity for MEPs’ meetings with interest representatives and tougher sanctions enforcing the supervision of ‘friendship groups’ with third countries.
Among other things, MEPs will have to append suggestions from external stakeholders to their reports and opinions. The rules on publication of meetings with interest representatives and representatives of third countries will now apply to all MEPs, not just those in official positions.
Current MEPs will not be allowed to contact former MEPs during the six-month waiting period after their term of office.
The role of the Advisory Committee has been strengthened and the number of members increased from five to eight.
The new rules will enter into force on 1 November 2023 (The European Parliament, 13 September 2023).
On 12 September, the European Ombudsman called for greater transparency around the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), a €700-billion funding programme designed to revive the European economy after the COVID-19 pandemic and to deal with the socio-economic effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the Ombudsman welcomed recent measures taken by the European Commission, such as the publication of information on the RRF website and the obligation for Member States to create public portals containing data on the fund’s main beneficiaries, she regrets the lack of transparency in the way the Commission oversees its use. She also calls for the continued publication of preliminary assessments of Member States’ payment claims, the publication of automatic translations of national recovery plans and improved handling of requests for access to documents (The European Ombudsman, 12 September 2023).
On 10 August, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) published its third interim compliance report on the 4th evaluation round for Denmark. GRECO concluded that Denmark has made no progress in implementing the four recommendations concerning parliamentarians. GRECO again regrets that the Danish Parliament has not adopted a code of conduct to ensure ethical standards, including guidelines on the prevention of conflicts of interest, issues concerning gifts and other benefits and how to deal with third parties seeking to exert undue influence on the Members’ work. It also regrets the failure to strengthen public registration of MPs’ business activities and financial interests. GRECO had recommended that the current system be further developed, in particular by including quantitative data on the MPs’ business activities and financial interests as well as data on significant liabilities. It also recommended that consideration be given to broadening the scope of declarations to include information on spouses and dependent family members (with the understanding that the information should not necessarily be made public) (Council of Europe, 10 August 2023).
On 25 August, GRECO published its second interim compliance report on the 5th evaluation round for the United Kingdom. The report assesses the prevention of corruption and the promotion of integrity within central government (senior executive functions) and law enforcement agencies. GRECO concluded that the United Kingdom had satisfactorily implemented eleven of the fifteen recommendations contained in the Fifth Round Evaluation Report. It welcomes the presence of an independent adviser on ministers’ interests empowered by his or her mandate and the ministerial code to launch an investigation in the event of an alleged breach of the code. GRECO would like to see a more comprehensive approach to risk assessment, in particular to increase the transparency of lobbying activities (Council of Europe, 25 August 2023).
On 7 September, GRECO also published its evaluation report on the 5th round for Romania. According to GRECO, Romania has implemented several laws containing provisions regulating conflicts of interest, incompatibilities, the filing of declarations of assets and interests and the acceptance and declaration of gifts. However, the report identifies 26 recommendations for improving the institutional framework. In particular, GRECO calls for greater clarity, coherence and stability in the legal framework for integrity, which is spread across several voluminous laws. Lastly, it recommends regulating public-private mobility for people holding senior executive positions (Council of Europe, 7 September 2023).
On Wednesday 2 August, the United Nations (UN) announced that the list of participants in the Climate Conference of the Parties will be made public in its entirety in order to combat the growing presence of fossil fuel lobbies. With just weeks to go before COP28 takes place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December, non-governmental organisations are denouncing the increasing presence of fossil fuel lobbyists at the event. Participants will also have to specify their « affiliation » and exact relationship, including financial, with the entity to which they report. They can refuse to provide details, but this will be noted on the list of participants. The aim is to « increase transparency » at a time when « the number of participants has grown steadily and the objectives of their participation have diversified, » the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change says on its website (Libération, 2 August 2023).
Former US President Donald Trump was indicted on Tuesday1 August for his attempts to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. The Republican front-runner for the 2024 election has been charged with « conspiracy to defraud the United States », obstruction of an official proceeding and violation of electoral rights after an investigation overseen by special prosecutor Jack Smith, a specialist in the fight against corruption (Le Monde, 1 August 2023).
Bernardo Arévalo was elected President of Guatemala on Sunday 20 August with almost 59% of the vote. His programme includes ten anti-corruption measures, such as greater transparency in decision-making, cleaning up corrupt institutions and the return of dozens of prosecutors, judges and journalists who were forced into exile (La Croix, 22 August 2023).
On 2 August, the Polish government officially adopted several amendments to its controversial law setting up a commission to examine Russian influence in the country. In early June, the European Commission opened an infringement procedure against Warsaw following the establishment of the commission, which is suspected of targeting Donald Tusk, the leader of the main opposition party. The European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, had sent a letter to the Polish government expressing his concern that an administrative body should be able to prevent individuals from taking up official duties (Contexte, 8 June 2023).
On 20 September, Parliament passed a law making the declarations of elected representatives’ interests and assets public. President Volodymyr Zelensky took the step, which was called for by the International Monetary Fund, to combat corruption in his country. Although the measure was already in force before the war, it was suspended when Russian invaded Ukraine in February 2022 (Les Echos, 21 September 2023).
The Ukrainian President’s cabinet is preparing an anti-corruption bill that would consider corruption in wartime as high treason subject to martial law. The addition of a new article to the criminal code reclassifying cases of wartime corruption as acts of treason against the country’s economic security would give responsibility for investigation to the SBU, the Ukrainian security services. The institutions responsible for combating corruption, such as the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and the Specialised Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), would be relieved of any responsibility for an investigation if the estimated loss exceeded 24 million hryvnias, or around 600,000 euros (Les Echos, 1 September 2023).