Council of Europe
On 16 January, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) published the 2ndaddendum to the 2nd compliance report of the 3rd evaluation round on Belgium. While noting the progress that has been made, GRECO urged the Belgian authorities to give fresh impetus to the work on the transparency of political party funding.
As part of the 5th evaluation round on preventing corruption in central governments and law enforcement agencies, GRECO released its report on Poland on 28 January. It highlighted the absence of a coherent legal framework to guarantee transparency for all persons exercising top executive functions. Moreover, the verification of asset declarations of public officials was considered unsatisfactory, and concerns were raised about the independence of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, as it is under the authority of the Prime Minister. GRECO called on the Polish authorities to take further measures to improve transparency and promote integrity.
On 29 January, GRECO published the 2nd compliance report of the 4th evaluation round on Croatia, which reviewed the implementation of recommendations on corruption prevention in respect of MPs, judges and prosecutors. In particular, GRECO regretted that the Croatian Parliament still did not adopt a code of conduct for its members. Nevertheless, the anti-corruption body praised the work of the Commission for the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest that supports and advises parliamentarians in order to reinforce compliance with ethical obligations.
The new code of conduct of the European Central Bank (ECB) entered into force on 1 January. It aims to strengthen the ethical standards applicable to high-levels officials of the institution, including governors of national central banks. The code improves the management of potential conflicts of interest by introducing specific rules for post-employment activities, private financial transactions and relations with interest groups. It also foresees the publication of declarations of interests on the ECB’s website.
On 10 January, in a speech marking the official start of the Romanian presidency of the EU, the president of the European Commission recalled that there was no compromise possible with regard to the respect of the rule of law and the fight against corruption, alluding to the controversial judicial reforms sponsored by the Romanian government. On 22 January, the Commission warned Bucharest against a draft decree that could overturn corruption convictions for politicians.
On 11 January, Heidi Hautal, Finnish MEP and vice president of the European Parliament, published an opinion piece in which she criticized the way the institution opposed reforms that could have strengthened transparency rules applicable to its members. Ms. Hautal argued that the Parliament urgently needs to improve its practices in order to restore the confidence of citizens in the run-up to the European elections.
In an interview published on 17 January, former French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve advocated for the creation of an EU anti-corruption prosecutor’s office. He stressed that it was necessary to have an EU directive regulating the fight against corruption and imposing common rules for all EU countries.
On 17 January, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the European Ombudsman’s inquiry on the transparency of legislative discussions in the preparatory bodies of the Council of the EU. MEPs shared the Ombudsman’s view that the treaties impose a legal obligation to ensure that citizens are able to understand, follow in detail and participate in the legislative process. The Parliament therefore endorsed the Ombudsman’s recommendations to the Council and urged the latter to implement them.
On 22 January, negotiators from the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the Commission reached an agreement on a revised directive that will facilitate the availability and re-use of public sector data. On this occasion, the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society underlined the importance of open data for democracy as it increases transparency and supports a facts-based public debate.
In a report presented on 23 January, the European Commission identified the risks of investor citizenship and residence schemes in the EU, in particular as regards security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. These “golden” passports or visa schemes, operated by several Member States, lack transparency and oversight, according to the Commission. The latter proposed a number of measures, such as the establishment of a system of exchange of information and consultation, to better monitor the schemes in question. The NGOs Transparency International and Global Witness, who denounced the risks of “golden visas” in October 2018, deemed that the measures put forward were not strict enough to combat the problem.
On 23 January, Politico devoted an article to the lobbying efforts deployed by the American company Facebook towards the European Commission. Internal Commission documents revealed that Facebook representatives had met several times with senior EU officials to push back against rules that could affect the interests of the firm.
On 31 January, after a vote by secret ballot, the European Parliament adopted changes to its rules of procedure to operate in a more transparent way. Indeed, the key actors of the legislative process – MEPs steering legislation through parliament (rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs) – will now be required to publish online all scheduled meetings with interest representatives named on the Transparency Register. Other MEPs are also encouraged to publish online any meetings they hold with lobbyists. In addition, the Parliament’s website will have to be technically adapted in order to allow members to publish information on their use of the General Expenditure Allowance. These new rules were welcomed by civil society organizations.
International Olympic Committee
On 10 January, Tsunekazu Takeda, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was indicted for active bribery as part of a French judicial investigation into the awarding of the 2020 Olympic Games to Tokyo. Mr. Takeda is believed to have bought votes from African IOC members before the election of the Japanese capital. As a matter of fact, suspicious payments were allegedly made to a lobbying firm linked to Papa Massata Diack, the son of the former head of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), who is himself involved in several investigations into corruption in sport. Mr. Takeda denied the accusations.
On 29 January, Transparency International (TI) released its 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, which is relies on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries, using a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). In 2018, Denmark led the ranking, followed by New Zealand and Finland. Perceived levels of corruption were higher in Somalia, Syria and South Sudan, countries that had been affected by violent conflict in recent years.
More than two-thirds of countries scored below 50, with an average score of 43. Since 2012, 20 countries, including Argentina and Ivory Coast, significantly improved their scores, and 16 significantly decreased their scores, including Australia, Chile and Malta. With a score of 72 points, France moved up two places compared to 2017, and now occupies the 21st position. In contrast, the United States dropped in the ranking. According to TI, the American low score coincides with an erosion of ethical norms at the highest level of power.
Furthermore, TI drew attention to the link between public probity breaches and the weakening of democratic institutions. Indeed, the NGO highlighted that corruption contributes to the crisis of democracy around the world, and favors the election of populist candidates.