International newsletter of the HATVP – December 2022 / January 2023
In December 2022, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued several reports assessing European countries on the fight against corruption. The European Commission and the European Parliament also announced new initiatives in this area.
In addition, Transparency International published its annual ranking of 180 countries on perceptions of corruption in the public sector. The NGO warns that the fight against corruption is stagnating worldwide.
Against the backdrop of the “Qatargate” scandal that has implicated several MEPs, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, has presented a plan to reform ethics in the Parliament. 14 proposals have been unveiled, including a two-year ban on lobbying by former MEPs after their term of office, a ban on so-called friendship groups and a requirement for MEPs and their assistants to declare meetings with interest representatives. There is also a plan to tighten up rules on MEPs’ declarations of income. (Context, 11 January 2023 / Politico, 11 January 2023)
On International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December, Ylva Johansson, the Commissioner for Home Affairs, announced that measures would be proposed in 2023 to update the legal framework on corruption within the European Union, including illicit enrichment, trading in influence and abuse of power. (European Commission, 09 December 2022)
The European Ombudsman has welcomed the reforms proposed by the President of the European Parliament and called for the next steps to be transparent. It has emphasized that a strong anti-corruption and ethics system should be an integral part of all EU institutions and bodies. It has called for some of the proposed measures to be strengthened, such as the publication of meetings between MEPs and interest representatives, as well as meetings with representatives from non-EU countries. The Ombudsman has also called for the powers of the committee monitoring the implementation of MEPs’ Code of Conduct to be strengthened, by allowing it to investigate on its own initiative. (European Ombudsman, 30 January 2023)
On 25 January 2023, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) published an evaluation report on Romania’s progress in preventing corruption by MPs, judges and prosecutors. GRECO considers that some improvement has been made by the introduction of a code of conduct for MPs. However, it stresses that the transparency of the parliamentary process still needs to be improved. Additional measures are also needed to deal with conflicts of interest and to introduce provisions on how MPs come into contact with lobbyists. (Council of Europe, 25 January 2023)
On 19 January 2023, GRECO published an evaluation report on preventing corruption and promoting integrity in top executive functions and law enforcement agencies in Bulgaria. GRECO notes that top government officials are not subject to an appropriate integrity framework: no code of ethics applies to them, no awareness is raised on integrity issues, and there is no mechanism in place for confidential advice on ethical issues. The report also highlights the lack of rules and transparency regarding interaction with lobbyists seeking to influence government policy and calls for the development of such rules. GRECO is also concerned about the ineffectiveness of the verification of senior officials’ declarations of interests and assets and recommends a more thorough analysis. (GRECO, 19 January 2023)
On International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December 2022, GRECO President, Marin Mrčela, stated that transparency is one of the pillars on which any effort to fight corruption must be based. In his view, the public has a right to know whether, and how, other parties or interests influence law-making. The GRECO President also noted the body’s work on issuing recommendations to States on various aspects related to good governance and the rule of law. (GRECO, 9 December 2022)
According to the OECD, Finland, Hungary, Poland and Spain should step up their efforts to crack down on foreign bribery. The international organisation points out that no foreign bribery cases have been detected, investigated or prosecuted in Finland, Poland and Hungary since their last OECD evaluation report. In Spain, the OECD recommends improving the detection of foreign bribery by regulating voluntary self-disclosure and protecting whistle-blowers. (Spain: OECD, 19 December 2022, Finland: OECD, 15 December 2022, Hungary: OECD, 31 January 2023, Poland: OECD, 14 December 2022)
Transparency International has published its 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index for the public sector. According to the NGO, the progress of Western countries and the European Union in this ranking is undermined by anti-corruption measures that are still too fragmented and risks of undue influence on public decision-making. The scores of European countries have thus stagnated for around ten years. In particular, the NGO highlights the influence of Gazprom in Germany, Uber in France, and violations of the rule of law in Poland, Malta, Austria and Hungary. (Transparency International, 31 January 2023)
Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc has resigned amid an anti-corruption drive launched in the wake of various pandemic-related cases liable to implicate members of government. This resignation follows the decision to sack two deputy prime ministers in January. The Vietnamese Communist Party considered that Mr Phuc was responsible for wrongdoing by members of his government. In recent months, around 100 senior officials and company directors have been arrested in connection with a scandal involving the distribution of Covid-19 tests. (Le Monde, 17 January 2023, The Guardian, 17 January 2023)
According to Transparency International, Australia has improved its anti-corruption measures after a decade of declining performance on the corruption perception index. In particular, Australia has set up a new anti-corruption commission, which will be operational in June. However, the NGO calls on the Australian government to do more on whistle-blower protection, cooling-off periods after public office and transparency in lobbying. (The Guardian, 31 January 2023)
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has defended his record on integrity and responded to criticism of his handling of ethics scandals involving several senior Conservatives. Following an independent inquiry by a standards adviser, Rishi Sunak claims to have acted decisively to fire the party Chairman, who was the subject of a tax dispute while in office. (Le Monde, 30 January 2023 / Le Monde, 29 January 2023)