Last year will be remembered in history.

For Russia’s brutal war of aggression.

And our unprecedented unity and solidarity with Ukraine.

I will always remember. How we welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees.

And how we remain strong and determined and stand by Ukraine to this day and will continue to do so.  

But when I went home to Sweden in the break, what did people say?

“What on Earth is going on in Brussels”?

Instead of solidarity, they talked about suitcases full of cash.

When I spoke here in Strasbourg last in December.

I could feel the shock, shame and anger in this room.

Outrage that the alleged criminal behaviour of so few

Put at risk all the good work of so many.

But I also felt determination, conviction and the will, to learn, to change, to reform

In December, trust was broken.

Now we must pick up the pieces. Now, we must rebuild.

And better, stronger than before.

So I welcome the measures announced last week.

To increase integrity, independence and accountability in the Parliament.

That’s a good start. But we must do more.

Nothing but the highest standards will do.

For all institutions.

That’s why it’s critical to have uniform, strong rules in place. Guarded by a joint ethics body for all to answer to.

Vice-President Jourová is in constant contact with Parliament and Council

And the Commission is ready to put forward a proposal.

We can build on the interinstitutional agreement on the transparency register.

Signed two years ago.

A major milestone in fostering a common transparency culture.

Like all my colleagues I can only meet businesses and organisations on the transparency register.

We are uncompromising in upholding the highest standards of transparency about who tries to influence us.

It’s normal for us to meet with civil society, with businesses and other partners.

As politicians and leaders we must always be ready to listen.

We must always listen to words. But never ever to favours. Gifts. Bribes.

That is totally unacceptable.

That’s why we protect whistle blowers who report foul play. They are essential for the functioning of our democracy.

We protect them with our own internal rules and with our EU laws – the Directive on Whistleblowers Protection.

And the EU anti-fraud office OLAF investigates allegations of wrongdoing.

We will be debating one such case tomorrow, triggered by a whistle blower.

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office is proving its value day in, day out.

Defending the EU budget.

It was EPPO who requested to lift the immunity of two Members of the European Parliament in December.

And in its first seven months of operation, EPPO investigated more than 5 billion euro in losses to the EU budget.

When we talk about fighting corruption we must be clear.

Transparency, accountability will not be enough.

Corruption is a serious crime. And we must fight it with the full force of the law.

60 per cent of criminal organisations engage in corruption.

Criminals are buying people, buying politicians, buying power.

Soon I will propose a new law to criminalise all forms of corruption.

With unified definitions of corruption. And harmonised penalties across the European Union.   

We are shaping the proposal as we speak

I promise you. We will be as ambitious as we can.

As tough as we possibly can.

And give police and courts the tools they need to eradicate corruption.

The scandal we are discussing goes beyond criminal corruption.

In the media there are disturbing allegations about activities of foreign states, foreign agents.

It’s normal for us to talk to foreign politicians, businesspeople, leaders.

What’s unacceptable is any malicious interference in our internal affairs, in our democracies.

High Representative / Vice President Josep Borrell raised the investigations with counterparts in Qatar and Morocco.

Making clear that we need thorough investigations, there can be no impunity for corruption.

What cannot wait is the defence of our democracies.

Soon, the Commission will present the Defence of Democracy package.

To bring covert foreign influence and shady funding to light

Against third country entities covertly impacting public opinion and undermining democracy.

We must now urgently put plans and proposals into action. 

To combat corruption and uphold transparency, accountability and honesty.

Both in our institutions and on our continent.

You can count on me that I will do everything in my power to this end.

And so will the entire Commission 

And I know I can count on you.

I know that in this struggle we are partners.

I know that this scandal affects all of you, here in the European Parliament very personally.  

You are sad, angry but also determined to act.

I ask you: take inspiration from all we have done in the last three years.

We dealt with Covid

We are dealing with this war.

We can clearly also deal with corruption.

And root it out, wherever we find it.