On 3 Feb 2014, the European Commission released its Anti-Corruption Report (COM 2014/38 final)1, which provides comprehensive analyses of corruption within the EU member states, national preventive measures in force, and suggestions for legislative improvements. With this report, the Commission is striving to provide momentum to a pan-European debate on anti-corruption issues and to assist Member States in identifying ways to improve anti-corruption work at the national level.
73% of Europeans polled in the Report say that bribery and the use of connections is often the easiest way of obtaining certain public services in their country. According to the Report, corruption is perceived as particularly widespread by citizens in the Czech Republic (95%), Slovakia (90%), Hungary (89%) and Poland (82%). Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Romania are countries lagging behind in the scores concerning both perceptions and actual experience of corruption. In these countries, between 6 to 29% of respondents indicated that they had been asked for or were expected to pay a bribe during the past 12 months. The healthcare sector provides the bulk of instances of bribery. According to the Commission, there is evidence that structural problems in healthcare provide incentives to pay a bribe to medical staff.
26% of the polled Europeans claim that they are personally affected by corruption in their daily lives. People are most likely to say they are personally affected by corruption in Romania and Croatia and least likely to do so in Denmark. 8% of Europeans say they have experienced or witnessed a case of corruption within the past 12 months, with the highest level of such responses in Slovakia (21%) and Poland (16%).
Overall, the Commission concluded that all EU Member States have most of the necessary legal instruments and institutions in place to prevent and fight corruption. However, the anti-corruption mechanisms often do not deliver fully satisfying results. Therefore, the Report provides suggestions on how to optimize the national legal frameworks for fighting corruption. We have summarized these recommendations for those eight EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe in which Schoenherr has local anti-corruption experts in place:
The Commission acknowledged that Austria's efforts to fight corruption have been strengthened by recent amendments to the Austrian Criminal Code as of 1 January 2013. Improvements had been made by providing sufficient specialized prosecutors to process corruption cases. However, to efficiently investigate bribery cases, Austria should facilitate access to bank account information. The Commission also suggests introducing a monitoring mechanism for checking declarations of assets for both elected and appointed senior public officials.
The Commission concludes that corruption in Bulgaria remains widespread despite current reforms of the country's anti-corruption legislation. The Commission proposes that Bulgaria should shield anti-corruption institutions from political influence and appoint the institutions' management in a transparent procedure. In addition, a code of ethics should be adopted for members of the National Assembly and dissuasive sanctions for corruption in public procurement shall be enforced at national and local levels.
The Commission states that even if a strategic framework for fighting corruption has been evolving in the Czech Republic over the past decade, problems related to public procurement practices and the misuse of public funds persist. As attempts to pass legislation covering conflicts of interest in the civil service have been unsuccessful, the Commission suggests that such legislation shall be put in place. De lege ferenda the Czech Republic should provide for merit-based recruitment and guarantees against arbitrary dismissal in the state's civil service. Furthermore, the Commission suggests that electoral campaign expenditures and donations shall be made public in annual financial reports.
The Commission attests that Hungary developed ambitious anti-corruption policies. However, in its report the Commission points out a number of areas where further efforts can be made, especially with regard to the financing of political parties, control mechanisms surrounding public procurement procedures, and conflict of interests among public officials. The Commission sees further needs for changes in the field of strengthening the accountability standards for officials and in preventing favoritism in public administration. Moreover, "gratitude" payments in the healthcare sector should be eliminated.
The Commission indicates that even though Poland has implemented certain policies against corruption, a more strategic approach is necessary to ensure comprehensive solutions. Thus, the Report suggests that Poland should develop a long-term strategy against corruption. Reforms are needed to safeguard the transparency of public procurement and healthcare. Further measures should be taken to prevent a politicization of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau. Also, the supervision of state-owned companies shall be strengthened.
The Commission determined that corruption remains a significant problem in Romania and that the political will to promote high standards of integrity is inconsistent. Romania should ensure that independence and non-partisan investigations into high-level corruption cases are guaranteed. The Report suggests that Romania develop comprehensive codes of conduct for elected officials and that dissuasive sanctions for corruption cases be ensured, while control mechanisms in public procurement should be strengthened. The Commission proposes increasing the efficiency of the detection and prevention of conflicts of interest among public officials, as well as strengthening safeguards when it comes to abuses in the allocation of public funding. Further steps against the corruption in the healthcare sector need to be taken.
The Commission identifies several factors that limit the effectiveness of anti-corruption work: problems with legislation, perceived lack of independence of parts of the judiciary, and close ties between the political and business elites. The Commission suggests that Slovakia should strengthen the independence of the judiciary, especially by specifying criteria under which presidents and vice-presidents of courts can be removed from office. Further, the Report suggests increasing the transparency of party funding at local and regional level and implementing measures to prevent the misuse of EU funds.
The Commission attests that while Slovenia is vested with a well-developed anti-corruption framework, the political drive against corruption has declined in the recent past. The Report suggests that Slovenia establish penalties to dissuade officials from not complying with disclosure requirements re their assets or conflict of interests. Slovenia should safeguard the independence and resources of anti-corruption bodies and prosecution. The Report also encourages efforts to ensure supervision of party funding and to prevent corruption within state-owned or state-controlled companies and in the field of public procurement/privatizations.
The described practices and weaknesses identify steps that will allow Member States to address corruption more effectively. While addressing these issues is solely a matter of national competence, it is in the EU's common interest to ensure that all Member States have efficient anti-corruption policies in place and that high anti-corruption standards are being promoted across the EU.
1.Anti-Corruption Report (COM 2014/38 final) can be accessed here.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.