International Newsletter of the HATVP – September 2022
In September, the President of the European Commission announced in her annual State of the Union address that she wanted to strengthen the fight against corruption in the European Union.
Hungary also presented measures to promote transparency in the country following the decision of the EU executive to suspend the payment of part of the European funds to Hungary, accused of not effectively fighting corruption.
Other countries have also amended their transparency legislation, such as the UK, which launched its Foreign Influence Registration Scheme reminiscent of the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and Ireland, which amended its lobbying law.
EUROPEAN UNION (EU)
On 14 September, the President of the European Commission announced in her annual State of the Union address that she wanted to put in place measures to modernise the legislative framework for fighting corruption within the European Union as early as next year. The aim, she said, would be to “eradicate corruption at home” and “be credible when we ask candidate countries to strengthen their democracies”. Before warning against “foreign agents trying to influence our political system; or the face of shady companies or foundations abusing public money”, she announced that she wanted to tighten sanctions for offences such as illicit enrichment, influence peddling and abuse of power. The Commission also proposed to include corruption in the human rights sanctions regime. (European Commission, 14 September 2022)
On 6 September, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) published its second compliance report of the fourth evaluation round on Portugal. The fourth round is for parliamentarians. According to the report, although MPs’ declarations of income, assets and interests are available online, the Independent Authority for Transparency, responsible for assessing them, has yet to be established. Likewise, regular and substantive checks of MPs’ declarations within a reasonable time period must be provided for by law. To that end, the report recommends creating an electronic platform for declaring assets as well as establishing appropriate sanctions, i.e. lighter than dismissal or loss of mandate, for minor violations of the reporting obligation, including incomplete and inaccurate reporting.
On 12 September, GRECO released its third interim compliance report of the fourth evaluation round on Belgium. The report calls for “improvements to the declaration system, together with the publication of MPs’ declarations of assets” and for better regulation of gifts and transparency of contacts between MPs and third parties.
Finally, on 14 September, GRECO published its addendum to the second compliance report of the fourth evaluation round on Italy. It recommended “establishing a robust set of restrictions on donations, gifts, hospitality, favours and other benefits for parliamentarians” and that “a study be carried out in order to identify post-employment restrictions for Members of Parliament which might be required to avert conflicts of interests”. (Council of Europe)
On 13 September, Transparency International EU and The Good Lobby, two non-governmental organisations working to ensure the transparency of European institutions, announced that they had lodged a formal complaint with the European Ombudsman against the appointment of several senior officials to the European Parliament. The post of Secretary-General and several Director-General posts were concerned. The complaint points to an alleged lack of transparency in the appointment process for certain senior positions within EU institutions. (Politico, 13 September 2022; Transparency international EU, 13 September 2022; The Good Lobby, 14 September 2022).
On 19 September, after chairing the Cabinet committee meeting on anti-corruption, the Malaysian Prime Minister announced that he would introduce a new code of ethics for MPs and strengthen the asset declaration mechanism for members of government, MPs and senators to boost the credibility and integrity of public officials. During this meeting, it was also agreed that the heads of government-linked companies and investment companies, as well as members of the judiciary, should declare their assets to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). (Free Malaysia Today, 19 September 2022; Asia News Network, 20 September 2022)
Since 23 September, the Hungarian parliament has started to review the anti-corruption measures presented by the government. This package of seventeen measures to fight corruption and improve transparency in public procurement includes the establishment of an independent authority that can intervene in cases of suspected fraud, conflicts of interest or corruption. Public officials, including parliamentarians, will be required to disclose their income, assets and any involvement in a company. These measures will have to be studied by EU Member States before 19 November to see if they are sufficient to unlock €7.5 billion of EU funds, i.e. about 5% of Hungary’s GDP, currently frozen by the rule of law conditionality mechanism. (Les Echos, 25 September 2022)
On 22 September, the Irish Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform published a comprehensive plan to amend the Lobbying Act 2015, entitled the “Regulation of Lobbying Bill 2022 ”. This review aims to strengthen Ireland’s lobbying laws by improving the operation of the Irish Lobbying Register, including extending the public concerned by the Lobbying Act, and ensuring that failure to comply with the cooling-off period provided for in the 2015 Act is an offence, regulated by the Standards In Public Office Commission (SIPO). Failure to comply with this obligation would then be punishable by a fine of up to €25,000 and/or a ban on lobbying of up to two years. This bill is expected to be introduced in the Oireachtas in the autumn. (Government of Ireland, 26 September 2022)
On 8 September, the UK government introduced an amendment to the National Security Bill concerning the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme (FIRS). This scheme aims to reduce foreign influence, strengthen the resilience of the UK political system against covert foreign influence and make the activities of specified foreign powers or entities more transparent. This scheme responds to a key recommendation in the 2020 report on Russia by the Intelligence and Security Committee. The new scheme would require the registration of any political influence activity where the activity is being carried out by foreign entities. Failure to register or an omission could result in fines or up to five years’ imprisonment. (UK Government, 8 September 2022)