International developments during the month of October were dominated by a proliferation of popular protest movements worldwide, including in Chile, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, and also in Ecuador. Despite national differences, economic inequality and the rejection of corruption were the common driving forces behind these popular uprisings.
The need for exemplary public leaders was also felt in Europe. Following the rejection by the European Parliament of the nominee for the post of French Commissioner, Sylvie Goulard, the need for an independent body responsible for the ethical issues that concern all European institutions is becoming increasingly urgent.
On 11 October 2019, the European Parliament rejected the nomination of Sylvie Goulard, the French candidate for the post of Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Digital, Defence and Space. The questions raised by the elected representatives related in particular to the ongoing investigation into the fictitious MoDem parliamentary assistants, in which she is involved. But they also related to her advisory activities at the Berggruen Institute between 2013 and 2016, during her term as MP. (Contexte, 11 October 2019; The Financial Times, 10 October 2019)
Following this setback, the French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a new candidate, Thierry Breton, former Minister of the Economy and CEO of the digital services group Atos. In response to conflict of interest concerns, the candidate stated his intention to give up his Atos activities should his appointment be confirmed by the European Parliament. A committee of MEPs will be responsible for considering his application. If he gets through this stage, the French candidate will then be interviewed by MEPs who will consider his merits, in particular regarding the policy he intends to pursue should he be appointed. The same procedure will be applied to the Romanian and Hungarian nominations, whose candidates were also rejected. Ursula von der Leyen’s new Commission is to take up its duties on 1st December. (Capital, 29 October 2019; Euronews, 29 October 2019)
As a follow-up to these events, the Renaissance European Parliamentary Group proposed the establishment of a “Haute Autorité de la transparence de la vie publique” (HATVP, “High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life”) within the European Union. This independent body dedicated to ensuring that all European institutions comply with ethical rules should enhance transparency and citizens’ confidence in Europe. Mrs von der Leyen’s programme already included support for this idea. (La Croix, 21 October 2019)
Also in Europe, around fifty NGOs mobilised to demand that the European Banking Authority (EBA) reconsider its decision to allow its Executive Director, Adam Farkas, to join the banking lobby group AFME. They have issued a joint statement which also calls on the EBA to change its rules on revolving doors, and to be more transparent in its relations with representatives of financial sector interests. (Contexte, 23 October 2019)
A new OECD report denounces cases of fraud and corruption in the use of European investment funds. According to the study’s estimates, over 390 million euros are misappropriated from these funds each year. The guide focuses in particular on measures which could help prevent such misappropriation.
In South Africa the Gupta family, accused of having established a major corruption network involving the misappropriation of public funds, has been prohibited from doing business with American and international companies with subsidiaries in the United States. The United States Treasury Department has accused the Guptas of having conspired with Jacob Zuma to obtain major government contracts, in violation of current regulations. (BBC Afrique, 11 October 2019; The Financial Times, 10 October 2019)
In Congo Brazzaville, the NGO Global Witness exposed evidence of corruption in connection with the awarding of the Italian giant ENI’s four oil licences. In particular, a representative of the Congolese President, Denis Sassou Nguesso, allegedly headed a committee which allocated significant shares in four of ENI’s oil licences to a company he founded and would himself be running. (Global Witness, 10 October 2019)
On 13 October 2019, the Tunisians elected the constitutionalist Kaïs Saïed as President of the Republic. He professes socio-religious conservatism, decentralised revolution and diplomatic sovereignty. Kaïs Saïed’s reputation for integrity and moral rectitude, which is even acknowledged by his opponents, worked very much in his favour at a time when the population has become exasperated with mounting corruption. (Le Monde, 13 October 2019; Le Figaro, 10 October 2019)
In Lebanon, the Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on 29 October 2019, the thirteenth day of an unprecedented popular uprising against the entire political establishment. Tensions eased in the streets following the announcement of Mr Hariri’s departure but his resignation heralds an era of political uncertainty and only partly meets the protesters’ demands for fundamental reforms. Although the tax on WhatsApp calls sparked the protests, the protestors are demanding that action be taken against corruption. (Le Monde, 30 October 2019; Vox, 29 October 2019)
In Iraq, unprecedented demonstrations have been taking place since early October, demanding jobs for young people — who represent 60% of the population — and operational services from a state ravaged by corruption. At least 220 people have been killed since this protest movement began. (Le Huffpost, 27 October 2019; The New York Times, 30 October 2019)
In Algeria the organisation of the 12 December presidential elections, to elect Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s successor, was launched with 22 candidates. However, the population is challenging the State-controlled electoral process and has again demonstrated its opposition via large-scale demonstrations (“hirak”) on 25 October 2019. (Le Point, 28 October 2019; Aljazeera, 26 October 2019)
In Argentina, Alberto Fernandez and his vice-presidential candidate, ex-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, won the presidential election on 27 October 2019. Mrs Kircher has been indicted thirteen times. She is mainly under investigation for money-laundering offences and unlawful enrichment, notably in the awarding of public works contracts within the province of Santa Cruz, her stronghold in Patagonia. Elected senator in October 2017, she enjoys parliamentary immunity which prevents her from being arrested. Two-thirds of MPs and senators are required to lift a vice-president’s immunity, a highly unlikely eventuality. (Le Monde, 25 October 2019; The Guardian, 28 October 2019)
Chile has been experiencing a severe social crisis since 18 October 2019. Social inequality, high health and education costs, as well as corruption scandals within the army and the police force are regarded as having contributed to this social divide. Initially provoked by the increase in the cost of living in the country – and in particular by an increase in the price of a metro ticket in Santiago –, the movement has gained momentum despite the measure’s suspension and a cabinet reshuffle. Repression has been particularly evident in a country marked by the violence of its dictatorship. Clashes have left at least eighteen people dead. (Le Point, 22 October 2019; Bloomberg, 30 October 2019)
Before Chile, in the month of October Ecuador also experienced a social explosion triggered by a sudden increase in the price of fuel. A proportion of the population feels betrayed by President Lenín Moreno’s neo-liberal shift; the president had promised to pursue the “civic revolution” begun by his predecessor, Rafael Correa. As a result of pressure, the government withdrew its decree abolishing fuel subsidies. (Le Monde diplomatique, November 2019; The New York Times, 13 October 2019)
In the United States on 22 October 2019, the House of Representatives introduced a bill on corporate transparency which would oblige companies to disclose their actual beneficiaries at their creation. Its objective is to combat the use of shell companies and money laundering. The legislation still needs to be passed by the Senate. (ICIJ, 23 October 2019)
In Canada, Justin Trudeau was re-elected Prime Minister but without a majority. His Liberal Party obtained only 160 seats out of the 338 at stake in the House of Commons. His first term was marked by suspicions of corruption involving the SNC-Lavalin company and images of him in « blackface », which considerably affected his popularity ratings. (LCI, 22 October 2019; The Guardian, 22 October 2019)
In South Korea, the head of Samsung, the largest Korean conglomerate, has been on trial again since 25 October 2019 on charges of corruption, for which he received a five-year prison sentence in 2017. Jay Y. Lee, who officially only occupies the post of vice-president of Samsung Electronics but who in reality reigns over the entire conglomerate which is owned by his family, is being retried in a vast politico-economic case that incensed the country in 2016 and led to the fall and subsequent arrest of its Conservative President Park Geun-hye. (Les Echos, 25 October 2019; The Japan Times, 25 October 2019)
In Bulgaria, the Supreme Judicial Council elected its new Chief Prosecutor, Ivan Guechev, on 24 October 2019, against a background of protests questioning the independence of the sole candidate for the judiciary’s most senior position. The Chief Prosecutor, who is appointed for a 7-year term, is one of Bulgaria’s most powerful figures. He supervises the work of all the other prosecutors and has the final say on whether to launch or stop an investigation. There are no mechanisms in place to engage his liability and this lack of safeguards has been criticised by the European Court of Human Rights and by the European Commission. (La Libre.be, 24 October 2019; ABC news, 25 October 2019)
In Italy, the Anti-Corruption Authority (ANAC) published a report on corruption cases between August 2016 and August 2019. Corruption remains a “deeply-rooted and persistent phenomenon”. Over these three years, out of the 152 cases uncovered by the ANAC there were 117 arrests on charges of corruption, i.e. one per week. These arrests involved 43 political figures, including 20 mayors. Three quarters of the cases identified, which do not include crime organised by the Mafia, involve the awarding of public contracts. The remainder relate to insolvency proceedings, building permits and the issuing of exemptions in judicial and administrative procedures. (Le Figaro, 18 October 2019)