Theodoros Skylakakis MEP (ALDE) is working on implementing a thematic report he presented to the European Parliament on tackling systemic corruption in the EU’s public sector.
A 2012 poll by Eurobarometer showed that 74% of Europeans thought corruption was a major problem in their country, findings supported by studies carried out by Transparency International, which asked people about the contacts they had with various institutions, such as police, judiciary, medics and so on. They also asked which of these had transactions involved payment of a bribe.
The results show that around 20 million bribes are paid to officials in the 18 EU nations covered by the report. This breaks down into the following:
Medical services (8.1 million cases), utilities (2.8 m), education system (1.9 m), registry and permit services (1.8 m), tax revenue (1.8m), police (1.5 m), land services (1.4 m), judiciary (0.8 m) and customs (0.6m).
There are regional variations in the figures, but with over 8 million needing to pay a bribe to gain medical treatment, the problem is deeply rooted and serious.
The European Commission estimate the cost of corruption is equivalent to 1% of EU GDP, some €120 billion.
When it comes to tackling systemic corruption there seems to be little co-ordination and a lack of political will in some states. As the Commission informed deputies, “To date there is no mechanism in place monitoring the existence, and assessing the effectiveness, of anti-corruption policies at EU and Member State level in a coherent crosscutting manner.”
At international level, the main monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the OECD Working Group on Bribery and the review mechanism of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). “Given the limited visibility of the intergovernmental GRECO evaluation process and its follow-up mechanism, it has, so far, not generated the necessary political will in the Member States to tackle corruption effectively,” noted the Commission.
Transparency International also point out the “clear gap” in some member states between the law and what happens in practice.
There are also difficulties for the EU’s anti-fraud institution, OLAF. EU Commissioner, Algirdas Semeta says that, “since the year 2000, 281 out of a total of 647 cases transferred by OLAF to national judicial authorities were dismissed.”
Giovanni Kessler, OLAF Director says “We have already 1300 incoming information per year. I am not in a position with cuts of the staff etc. to additionally go around and looking for other information… OLAF does not have the legal basis, the staff and the power to make own initiative investigations. If you ask me to do, I would be happy. How can I do that? I cannot. I cannot even go and look at the bank account of any investigated person.”
Skylakakis notes, “Systemic corruption in the public sector, which acts as a major impediment for efficiency, foreign direct investment and innovation, is thus preventing the proper functioning of the monetary union.
Transparency International agrees, saying, “(“Research suggests a strong correlation between corruption and fiscal deficits, even in so-called rich countries. Those European countries that perform worst on global indicators measuring the ‘control of corruption’ also run the highest budget deficits.”
Skylakakis argues that there is much that can be done, within existing institutional arrangements. He urges the setting up of a European Public Prosecutor's Office, whose mandate may be extended to other crimes, if they are serious and have a cross-border dimension, noting that this has already been agreed.
He praises the Commission’s decision to set up a new mechanism, the EU Anti-Corruption Report, to monitor and assess Member States' efforts against corruption, which will be published every two years, starting in 2013.
However, the Greek Liberal cautions, “Though the Commission is taking all these positive initiatives, currently most policies pursued against corruption are passive.”
He asks that the new public prosecutor’s office is integrated with Europol, Eurojust and OLAF. He also urges greater protection for whistleblowers and 50% of own-initiative investigations by the antifraud EU investigative authorities, aimed at sectors and areas where systemic and large scale corruption affecting EU financial interests is suspected.