In October 2023, the European Commission adopted its work programme for 2024 and published the « Defence of Democracy » package on 12 December 2023.
At the European Parliament, the last quarter of 2023 was marked by the entry into force on 1 November of the new ethical rules and by the adoption on 7 December 2023 by the presidents of the European Parliament’s political groups of the reform project « A more modern and efficient Parliament ».
The European Ombudsman opened several investigations into conflicts of interest in October and November 2023. It also published a decision on ethical reforms in the European Parliament.
The Council of Europe also issued several evaluation and compliance reports as part of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) evaluation and compliance cycles.
On 17 October 2023, the European Commission adopted its work programme for 2024.
The work programme reflects the achievements of the last four years, sets out the Commission’s new proposals for the coming months and presents major initiatives to reduce administrative burdens. The administrative simplification project aims to reduce by 25% the total amount of information and data that businesses have to send to the authorities in order to comply with European regulations. (European Commission, 17 October 2023)
The European Commission welcomes the political agreement reached by the European Parliament and the Council on the regulation on the transparency of political advertising. It is part of the measures taken by the Commission to protect the integrity of elections and support open democratic debate. Under the new rules, political advertising will have to be clearly identified as such and indicate who paid for it, how much it cost, which election, referendum or regulatory process it relates to and whether it has been targeted. (European Commission, 07 November 2023)
On 12 December 2023, the European Commission published the « Defence of Democracy » package in the run-up to the European elections in June 2024. The package comprises a directive, a communication and two recommendations. The aim of the proposed directive is to enhance the transparency and democratic accountability of third-country interest representation activities designed to influence policy, decision-making and democracy. It introduces harmonised requirements, applicable throughout the internal market, for the transparency of interest representation carried out on behalf of third countries, in particular entry in a transparency register and public disclosure of the main details of interest representation activities (annual amounts received, third countries concerned and objectives of the activities). Member States will be invited to set up or adapt existing national registers for this purpose. (European Commission, 12 December 2023)
The European Parliament’s new ethical rules, adopted in September 2023, came into force on 1 November 2023. On 26 October, the Bureau of the European Parliament sent all MEPs a note detailing the application of these new rules. The document recalls that Members of Parliament will have to complete declarations of interest and assets, declare any conflicts of interest and declare all meetings arranged with lobbyists or representatives of third countries. (European Parliament, 26 October).
The members of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) adopted a draft report on 25 October 2023 proposing a number of institutional reforms to strengthen the European Union’s capacity to act, which was approved at the plenary session on 22 November 2023. The report calls on the heads of state and government to set up a convention to revise the treaties. The MEPs want the European Parliament to be given a full right of legislative initiative and to become co-legislator of the EU budget. The report also proposes greater transparency within the Council through the publication of Member States’ positions on legislative issues. (Parliament, 22 November 2023)
On 7 December 2023, the Presidents of the European Parliament’s political groups approved the draft reform submitted in November by the ad hoc working group for « a more modern and efficient Parliament ». The plan includes simplifying the procedure for assigning a matter to a committee, stepping up the use of own-initiative reports in which MEPs request the publication of a new legislative text, adjustments to the arrangements for trilogues and improvements to the hearings of candidates for the post of European Commissioner. (European Parliament, 07 December 2023)
The European Ombudsman has called on the European Investment Bank (EIB) to improve the rules on conflicts of interest in its supervision of public-private mobility. The former EIB Vice-President joined the management of a national development bank for which he had been involved in approving financing agreements with the EIB in the weeks prior to his appointment. The European Ombudsman has asked the EIB to strengthen the role of its Ethics and Compliance Committee in supervising the conversion of members of the Management Committee. (European Ombudsman, 08 November 2023)
The European Ombudsman has opened an investigation into the way in which the European Commission ensures that there are no conflicts of interest for external experts who assist it in evaluating European Defence Fund (EDF) project proposals (European Ombudsman, 14 November 2023).
On 7 December 2023, the Ombudsman published a decision in which it assessed the ethical reforms carried out by the European Parliament and the Parliament’s responses to the questions posed on 20 March 2023. It notes that despite the reforms, the basic framework for regulating ethical misconduct by MEPs remained unchanged. The interpretation and application of the code of conduct will remain a matter for MEPs. Formal sanctions for breaches of the code of conduct will continue to be imposed by the President of Parliament. It also highlights the uncertainties surrounding the monitoring and application of the rules on waiting periods, publication of meetings with lobbyists and declarations of interest. The role of the code of conduct advisory committee in monitoring compliance with the ethical framework would also benefit from clarification. The Ombudsman considers that the answers provided have made it possible to identify progress in the reform process, but regrets the lack of transparency in this process, particularly in the decisions adopted by the Bureau of the European Parliament. (European Ombudsman, 07 December 2023)
In a decision of 19 December 2023, the Ombudsman found that the European Commission’s failure to ensure transparency in all its departments regarding meetings with representatives of tobacco interests amounted to maladministration. It points out that only the Directorate-General for Health (DG SANTE) and the Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (DG TAXUD) proactively publish their meetings with representatives of tobacco interests. The Ombudsman criticises the failure to keep and make available minutes of meetings with representatives of tobacco interests, as well as the lack of a systemic assessment, in all Directorates-General, of whether such meetings are necessary. (European Ombudsman, 19 December 2023)
The European Network for Public Ethics, set up in June 2022 at the initiative of the French High Authority for Transparency in Public Life to promote public integrity and transparency, met on 4 and 5 October in Ljubljana, Slovenia. At its general meeting, the Network presented the work of its members on the reporting obligations of public officials. (European Network for Public Ethics, 4-5 October 2023).
On 2 October 2023, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) published its evaluation report on the 5th evaluation cycle of Cyprus, focusing on the prevention of corruption and the promotion of integrity within the central government (senior executive functions) and law enforcement authorities. The report highlights a number of shortcomings in the management of conflicts of interest and notes that mechanisms for monitoring declarations of assets should be strengthened. GRECO notes that while the legislation appears sound, its effectiveness is nevertheless compromised by institutional flaws, notably the proliferation of commissions with no real coordination or resources, no expertise and insufficient authority. The implementation of the recommendations addressed to Cyprus will be assessed by GRECO in 2025 as part of its compliance procedure. (Council of Europe, 02 October 2023)
GRECO has also published its second compliance report of the 5th evaluation cycle for the Netherlands. The report notes the adoption of a code of conduct for members of government, but regrets that this was not accompanied by a specific monitoring and sanction mechanism. An ad hoc obligation to report situations of conflict of interest has also been introduced. GRECO nevertheless concludes that the Netherlands does not sufficiently comply with the recommendations contained in the Evaluation Report and requests a progress report on the implementation of the outstanding recommendations by 30 June 2024. (Council of Europe, 17 October 2023)
On 18 October 2023, GRECO published its second compliance report of the 5th evaluation cycle for North Macedonia. The report highlights the proactive role of the National Commission for the Prevention of Corruption in providing a framework for the fight against corruption, in particular through its monitoring and advisory activities. However, GRECO concludes that the current level of compliance in North Macedonia is insufficient. (Council of Europe, 18 October 2023)
On 15 November 2023, GRECO published its second compliance report of the 5th evaluation cycle for Sweden. The report highlights a number of advances made in Sweden. The country now provides all ministers, secretaries of state and political advisers with a handbook containing rules applicable to all integrity-related issues. They are also given an introductory course on ethics, conflicts of interest and the prevention of corruption at regular intervals when they take up their duties, and have access to confidential advice on these issues. However, GRECO concludes that the current level of compliance in Sweden is insufficient. (Council of Europe, 15 November 2023)
On 16 November 2023, GRECO published its second compliance report of the 4th evaluation cycle for Austria, addressing the prevention of corruption of parliamentarians, judges and prosecutors. GRECO notes that no progress has been made in clarifying the implications for parliamentarians of any failure to mention conflicts of interest in their declarations and that the rules on recusal remain limited to members of supervisory committees and not to all parliamentary activities. The report notes that Austria has not made sufficient or decisive progress in fully implementing GRECO’s recommendations. (Council of Europe, 16 November 2023)
GRECO held its 95th plenary meeting from 27 November to 1 December 2023. The meeting examined three evaluation reports relating to the 5th evaluation cycle, and 13 compliance reports relating to the 5th and 4th evaluation cycles, concerning a total of 16 Member States (Cyprus, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, North Macedonia, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Spain, Turkey and the United States of America). (Council of Europe, 27 November – 1 December 2023)
GRECO has published a report in which it calls on the United States to continue its efforts to promote the integrity of individuals entrusted with the highest executive functions, and with regard to the personnel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). he implementation of the recommendations addressed to the United States will be assessed by GRECO in 2025 as part of its compliance procedure (Council of Europe, 12 December 2023)
The tenth Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (CoSP 10) was held in Atlanta from 11 to 15 December 2023, bringing together the 190 States Parties to the Convention as well as representatives of international organisations, civil society and the private sector. CoSP 10 concluded with the adoption of the resolution « Atlanta 2023: promoting integrity, accountability and transparency worldwide ». The States Parties decided to extend the second cycle of evaluation of the implementation of the Convention until June 2026. Qatar will host the eleventh CoSP conference in 2025. (United Nations, 11-15 December 2023)
The 22nd annual conference of the European Partners Against Corruption (EPAC) network was held in Dublin on 2 and 3 November 2023. The conference was organised by various Irish institutions (the Irish National Police Ombudsman, the Irish Policing Authority, the Irish National Police Inspectorate and the Irish Department of Justice) and was attended by over 200 participants. Nearly 100 institutions representing more than 30 countries and jurisdictions were present. (EPAC, 2-3 November 2023)
Transparency International published a report on 7 November 2023 examining the whistleblower protection laws adopted in 20 EU Member States. The report’s findings reveal that 19 of the 20 countries examined do not comply with EU requirements concerning either the right of whistleblowers to report information directly to the authorities, access to remedies and full compensation for damages suffered, access to advice, or a system of sanctions against those who violate whistleblower protection. (Transparency International, 07 November 2023)
The Canadian anti-corruption commissioner, Frédérick Gaudreau, presented the 2022-2023 administrative and operational review of UPAC, the autonomous police force specialised in corruption matters created in 2018. For the year 2022-2023, the corruption prevention team met with around 4,200 people working in the public or private sector as part of nearly one hundred corruption awareness-raising activities. (UPAC, October 24, 2023)
Peru’s Attorney General Patricia Benavides has been suspended for six months for alleged influence peddling and political favours. Ms Benavides’ forced withdrawal comes after she filed a complaint with Congress on November 27 against President Dina Boluarte for alleged homicide and her role in the repression of demonstrations between December 2022 and March 2023. (Les Echos, 18 December 2023)
Mali’s Central Office for the Fight against Illicit Enrichment (OCLEI) and Algeria’s High Authority for Transparency, Prevention and the Fight against Corruption are keen to establish a partnership between their two institutions as part of the coordinated fight against corruption and related offences. (OCLEI, 11 October 2023)
Syahrul Yasin Limpo, Indonesia’s former minister of agriculture, has been arrested on suspicion of corruption, accused in particular of embezzling more than $800,000 in public funds. He is the sixth Indonesian minister to be investigated for corruption since President Joko Widodo came to power in 2014 and whose term of office ends in 2024. (Médiapart, 13 October 2023)
The former Indonesian telecommunication minister was sentenced on 8 November 2023 to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of corruption in a case that cost the country more than $500 million. (RTL info, 08 November 2023)
One month before the local elections and six months before the general elections, there has been an upsurge in action against figures from parties in opposition to Narendra Modi’s BJP in India. The opposition has denounced the political instrumentalisation by the ruling party of institutions such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the government agency responsible for fighting corruption and money laundering. (Les Echos, 27 October 2023)
Following the resignation on 7 November 2023 of the Prime Minister, António Costa, who had been named in a number of corruption cases, the Portuguese justice system admitted making a mistake with his name. The public prosecutor’s office mistook António Costa, the prime minister, for António Costa Silva, the economy minister, following an error in the transcription of a telephone wiretap. (Le Point, 14 November 2023)
The Federal Ethics Commission published its annual report 2022-2023 on 18 October 2023, in which it welcomed the adoption by the Government on 16 June 2023 of a code of ethics for members of the Federal Government. In its report, it recommended that all the costs of seconded staff should be covered by the ministerial office budgets. (Federal Ethics Commission, 18 October 2023)