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EU's First Anti-Corruption Report: What Role for Whistleblowers and Civil Society?

BY Antonella Napolitano | Wednesday, February 5 2014

Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malström (credit: European Parliament on Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There are no corruption-free zones in Europe.

The bottom line of the first EU Anti-corruption report might be somewhat predictable, but it also represents a first and significant (albeit small) step to launch a debate within the EU institutions.

The study, which defines corruption as any “abuse of power for private gain,” was released last Monday and presented by Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs. It is based on the information available from existing monitoring mechanisms, as well as on data from other sources including national public authorities, research carried out by academic institutions, independent experts, think-tanks and civil society organizations.

The report does not “name and shame” any specific country, though 2013 was a year of major corruption cases across the EU: countries like Spain, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have all been involved in high-profile scandals involving money-laundering, party financing practices and other kinds of fraud. While it thoroughly analyzes issues like bribery and public procurement, it barely mentions recently debated topics like whistleblowing, lobbying and access to information.

What is the vision of the European Commission in the transnational fight against corruption?

Fostering a cultural change: The role of civil society

Citizens’ perception of corruption is a key issue, according to research by Eurobarometer, the European Commission’s Public Opinion Analysis sector. While about 8 percent of interviewed citizens declared they had witnessed episodes of corruption, the perceived impact is higher, ranging from 10 percent in Denmark to 99 percent in Greece.

"Corruption undermines citizens' confidence in democratic institutions and the rule of law, it hurts the European economy and deprives States from much-needed tax revenue. Member States have done a lot in recent years to fight corruption, but today’s Report shows that it is far from enough," Commissioner Malmström declared at the press conference. She also emphasized the cost of corruption for the European Union: damages amount to roughly 120 billion euros (US$162.34 billion), about the amount of the EU's shared budget.

The cultural role of civil society is however acknowledged by the European Commission. Public pressure “is in fact a key one because it ensures the right checks and balances in each society where the 'norm' should be defined by high integrity standards,” Home Affairs press officer Tove Ernst told techPresident in an email interview.

Ernst added that the focus of the report was on a limited number of key-corruption related issues and that the analysis is in fact supposed to be the first step in a broader effort to address the issue, which includes - as the report reads - “a mutual experience-sharing programme for Member States, local NGOs and other stakeholders to identify best practices and overcome shortcomings in anti-corruption policies, raise awareness or provide training.”

Whistleblowing: A long-term strategy?

“Sharing of best practices, cooperation in the adoption on international anticorruption tools [...] exchange of know-how and development of a collective strategy against corruption are not an option, they are mandatory,” Transparency International's Davide Del Monte told techPresident.

Among such best practices, Del Monte, who works as project officer for the Italian chapter of Transparency International, mentions also a whistleblowing platform launched by the Ministry of Justice in Austria that collects alerts or reports of corruption.

Transparency International was one of the organizations whose work was taken into account in the preparation of the EU Anti-Corruption report. In the European Commission study, a mention goes to “Alternative to silence,” a 2009 report that assessed whistleblowing legislation, policies and practice in 10 European countries.

The European Commission is certainly no stranger to the topic of whistleblowing.

In a recent Google Hangout with journalists and bloggers from all over Europe, Viviane Reding, the Justice Commissioner and Vice President of the European Commission, acknowledged the work of Edward Snowden as an unusual ally in her work to create an effective data protection law.

Del Monte thinks that instruments like FOIA and whistleblowing will be more impactful in the long term because they involve civil society and are dependent on cultural changes. “But for the same reasons, they need more time to demonstrate their effectiveness and to be fully appreciated and supported,” he adds.

Will the European Union be able to play a role in such a cultural change?

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