In June, the European Ombudsman continued her enquiries into the revolving door between civil service and lobbyists in the EU institutions, the Council of the European Union adopted guidelines on the sponsorship of presidencies by Member States, and the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office was set up. Germany adopted a law improving transparency in political life and regulating lobbying. Slovenia and El Salvador have taken a step backwards in the fight against corruption. The UK, faced with several scandals, is considering a better framework for lobbying.
In addition, on 3 June, the High Authority published its activity report for 2020, which was a record year for the institution (the report is available in French, the English version will be published soon). Indeed, in addition to the 17,000 reports that were received due to a busy political and electoral calendar, in February 2020 a new mission was added to control the mobility of public officials from and to the private sector.
EUROPEAN UNION (EU)
The vote of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, which was to adopt the report proposing the creation of a new independent ethical body to replace the current structures in the institutions, was postponed. The European People’s Party (EPP), which continues to oppose the text, has obtained a postponement of the vote to 14 July. (Agence Europe, 22 June 2021)
The Renew parliamentary group asked the European Commission, in a letter dated 27 June, to reject the Hungarian recovery plan as long as anti-corruption reforms are not included . In particular, MEPs are calling for Hungary to commit to a law that would prohibit individuals and companies with conflicts of interest from obtaining funds from the recovery plan. (Contexte, 29 June 2021)
After more than a year of negotiations, representatives of the 27 EU countries agreed on 29 June on common guidelines for the use of sponsors during the rotating EU Presidency. The short text adopted is non-binding and advises capitals to avoid conflicts of interest or damage to the EU’s reputation when choosing a sponsor and to be as transparent as possible in the selection process. The text will be included in the booklets distributed to each capital ahead of its presidency. (Contexte, 30 June 2021)
In its 2020 annual report published in late May, the EU Transparency Register Secretariat promised to improve the reliability and content of the register in view of its central position in the EU’s overall transparency policy. Furthermore, the report highlights that a total of 4,973 checks were carried out during the year, representing 40% of the total stock of registrants. 27% of the checks (i.e. 407 interest representatives) resulted in a deletion from the register for ineligibility or failure to update. (Contexte, 03 June 2021)
At the European Parliament’s plenary session, MEPs approved the new statute of the European Ombudsman by a very large majority (602 votes in favour, 9 opposed, 81 abstaining). This revision of the Statute should strengthen the legal basis of the Ombudsman, but also introduce additional safeguards to ensure their independence, as well as an appropriate budget to support the office’s activities. The Parliament’s vote on the Statute, the final legal step, took place on 23 June, following approval by the Council. (European Parliament, 15 June 2021, European Ombudsman, 10 June 2021)
The European Ombudsman opened a new enquiry on Wednesday 23 June into the revolving door between civil service and lobbyists in the EU institutions. This new enquiry concerns the European Investment Bank (EIB). It was opened following a complaint by two MEPs and concerns the appointment of former EIB Vice-President Emma Navarro as a non-executive member of the board of directors of Iberola, the Spanish energy supplier. (European Ombudsman, 25 June 2021, Contexte, 28 June 2021)
The new body to fight fraud and corruption, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, officially took up its duties on Tuesday 1 June. It is responsible for investigating and prosecuting offences against the EU budget. One of its tasks will be to monitor the use of the billions of euros of the recovery plan allocated to EU countries to deal with the consequences of the health crisis. (France 24, 1 June 2021)
In its annual report, published on 15 June and covering all 27 EU Member States, the NGO warns of increasing corruption. Indeed, the report indicates that a third of Europeans believe that corruption has increased in their country, a phenomenon considered a problem by almost two thirds of them. In addition, 30% of respondents report having paid a bribe or used a personal acquaintance to access public services, equivalent to 106 million people. Finally, the report adds that the pandemic has exacerbated the feeling of corruption: 50% of respondents believe that bribes or connections are commonly used by companies to obtain profitable government contracts. (Transparency International, 15 June 2021)
Following “the mask scandal”, in which conservative MPs allegedly received commissions for acting as intermediaries in mask procurement contracts, the Bundestag voted on 11 June on a law on raising the moral standards for public life. From September onwards, in order to gain access to the Federal Assembly, lobbyists will have to identify themselves and indicate the expenses that are allocated to lobbying elected officials. Furthermore, this law obliges MPs to declare all their additional income above 3,000 euros per year. (L’express, 14 June 2021).
The NGO Transparency International Slovenia wants whistleblowers to be given adequate protection, including through the transposition of the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive. Indeed, the recent Global Corruption Barometer 2021 survey highlighted that almost two-thirds of Slovenian respondents believe that citizens fear retaliation when reporting corruption in Slovenia. (Independent Balkan News Agency, 23 June 2021)
Slovenia, which is due to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 July, has been accused of a clear lack of cooperation with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) for cancelling its two appointments of deputy public prosecutors to that institution, but also of breaches of the rule of law, which could lead to an infringement procedure before the CJEU. (The Parliament Magazine, 7 June 2021, Challenges, 3 June 2021)
On 10 June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution (505 votes in favour, 30 opposed, 155 abstaining) against the conflicts of interest of the Czech Prime Minister. MEPs find it unacceptable that Andrej Babis can steer EU subsidy programmes, while continuing to receive CAP payments through the Agrofert group of companies he founded and controls. (European Parliament, 10 June 2021,European Parliament, 10 June 2021)
The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Evans, has called for significant reform of ethics rules in an emergency review following the Greensill scandal involving former Prime Minister David Cameron. He proposes extending the ban on lobbying, which applies to all ministers after they leave office, from two years to five years and to sanction them if they do not comply with the rules imposed. (Guardian 14 June 2021, News 24, 14 June 2021)
Health Minister Matt Hancock announced his resignation on 26 June for failing to comply with Covid-19 rules. The case raises questions of a conflict of interest following the revelation of the former minister’s affair with his assistant, a non-executive director of the Ministry of Health. The Labour opposition has called for a review of 85 posts, fearing conflicts of interest due to the lack of regulation of the process for installing these non-executive directors. (Guardian, 29 June 2021, RTL, 27 June 2021)
The Congress of Armenia is launching a series of four thematic online workshops on public integrity and ethics in local governance in Armenia between June and September 2021. The workshops include training on the practical implementation of European standards on public ethics at local level, as well as exchanges between Armenian municipalities and Congress members. (Council of Europe, 25 June 2021, Council of Europe, 25 June 2021)
The new Attorney General announced on Friday 4 June that he would terminate the cooperation agreement signed with the Organisation of American States (OAS). It supported the El Salvadoran judicial system through the Commission for the Fight against Corruption and Impunity (CICIES). El Salvador is thus ending this Commission, the last of its kind in this part of Central America. (Le Monde, 5 June 2021, Swissinfo, 5 June 2021)
Three Brazilian senators have filed a request to the Supreme Court to investigate President Jair Bolsonaro for turning a blind eye to overpriced vaccine purchases. This procedure could lead to Bolsonaro’s impeachment. (Le Monde, 29 June 2021, The Washington Post, 30 June 2021)
A major investigation is launched into corruption in the fight against Covid-19. It concerns €820 million in contracts related to the fight against the virus and two people close to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, suspected of having received illicit payments related to a communications contract. (Le Monde, 4 June 2021, The Irish Times, 9 June 2021)
Former Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui is due to appear in court soon for yet another corruption case under the Bouteflika regime. He is accused of granting undue advantages with regard to public contracts and embezzlement of public funds during his time as wali (state representative) in Constantine. (Algeria 360°, 29 June 2021)