Corruption is the abuse of power for private gain. Corruption takes many forms, such as bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions, but can also hide behind nepotism, conflicts of interest, or revolving doors between the public and the private sectors. Its effects are serious and widespread. Corruption constitutes a threat to security, as an enabler for crime and terrorism. It acts as a drag on economic growth, by creating business uncertainty, slowing processes, and imposing additional costs. Although the nature and scope of corruption may differ from one EU State to another, it harms the EU as a whole by lowering investment levels, hampering the fair operation of the Internal Market and reducing public finances.
37% of EU businesses consider corruption to be a problem for them when doing business.EB [FL457] 60% agree with the statement that bribery and the use of connections is often the easiest way to obtain certain public services.
However, the true social cost of corruption cannot be measured merely by the amount of bribes paid or public funds diverted. In addition to allowing economic inefficiencies to flourish, corruption adversely affects government objectives ranging from improving income distribution, to better environmental protection. Most importantly, corruption undermines trust in governments, public institutions and democracy in general.
The Treaty on the Functioning of the EU recognises corruption as a "euro-crime", listing it among the particularly serious crimes with a cross-border dimension for which minimum rules on the definition of criminal offences and sanctions may be established (TFEU Art. 83.1). With the adoption of the Stockholm Programme, the Commission has been given a political mandate to measure efforts in the fight against corruption and to develop a comprehensive EU anti-corruption policy, in close cooperation with the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).
It is in the common interest to ensure that all Member States have effective anti-corruption policies and the EU supports the Member States in pursuing this work. The EU Anti-Corruption Report, published in 2014, demonstrated that the nature and scope of corruption vary from one EU country to another and that the effectiveness of anti-corruption policies is quite different. The Report also showed that corruption deserves greater attention in all EU countries.
Since then, the EU Anti-Corruption Report has served as the basis for dialogue with national authorities while also informing broader debates across Europe. All EU countries have designated a national contact point to facilitate information exchange on anti-corruption policy. Together with theanti-corruption experience-sharing programme launched by the Commission in 2015, these efforts have encouraged national authorities to better implement laws and policies against corruption.
The Commission's anti-corruption efforts are centred around the following main pillars: mainstreaming anti-corruption provisions in EU horizontal and sectorial legislation and policy; monitoring performances in the fight against corruption by Member States; supporting the implementation of anti-corruption measures at national level via funding, technical assistance and experience-sharing; improving the quantitative evidence base for anti-corruption policy.
While the European Commission regularly receives reports about alleged corruption cases in Member States from citizens, it has no powers to intervene in individual cases.
Anti-corruption in EU legislation
One tool to help anti-corruption efforts is ensuring a common high standard of legislation, either specifically on corruption, or incorporating anti-corruption elements in other sectoral legislation. The Union has a general right to act in the field of anti-corruption policies, within the limits established by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. In particular, the EU should ensure a high level of security, including through the prevention and combating of crime and the approximation of criminal laws. In its Article 83, the Treaty recognises corruption as a 'euro-crime', therefore the EU holds legislating powers to regulate this area.
Specific anti-corruption acquis includes the 1997 Convention on fighting corruption involving officials of the EU or officials of Member States and the 2003 Framework Decision on combating corruption in the private sector aims to criminalise both active and passive bribery.
European legislation in other areas such as anti-money laundering and public procurement include important anti-corruption provisions. Further measures have been taken or are under discussion to increase transparency, for example, concerning beneficial ownership and corporate tax transparency, or the contacts between EU decision-makers and interest representatives. Work to fight fraud and corruption risks in the implementation of EU funds is also a corner stone of our anti-corruption policy framework, as the legislative work to establish a European Public Prosecutor's Office and the directive on the protection of the financial interests of the EU testify. The Commission has worked together with Parliament on a number of legislative initiatives of relevance in the fight against corruption.
In the field of asset recovery, in December 2016 the Commission adopted a proposal for a Regulation on the mutual recognition of freezing orders and will further explore the possibility of introducing non-conviction based confiscation.
Monitoring performances in the fight against corruption by Member States
Over the past years, the Commission has emphasised anti-corruption as a key element contributing to attaining the growth, jobs and investment priority. Preventing and fighting corruption is a key element in the European Semester cycle of economic governance, which is the main dialogue on economic policy between the EU and national authorities. The annual European Semester country reports include detailed analysis of corruption risks and associated challenges. In relevant cases, these issues are also reflected in Country Specific Recommendations, endorsed each year by national leaders in the European Council. Examples include recommendations to tackle inefficient practices in public procurement, strengthen rules for preventing conflicts of interest, revise the statute of limitations for corruption offences, or address informal payments in healthcare. The most recent Country Specific Recommendations can be found here.
Supporting anti-corruption measures at national level
The Commission organises regularly anti-corruption experience-sharing workshops across the EU. This programme supports interested parties from Member States in discussing and sharing solutions to integrity policy problems.
In addition, the Commission provides funding on a regular and ongoing basis to support a wide range of projects via ISF or ESIF funds [LINK] aimed at improving integrity and addressing corruption in EU Member States, such as:
The Toolbox on Quality of Public Administration, including 170 inspirational case studies, helps national practitioners seeking to improve administrative capacity, for which funding is available from the European Structural and Investment Funds.
The Seventh Framework Programme for research and innovation funded the ANTICORRP research project to investigate factors that promote or hinder the development of effective anti-corruption policies. This interdisciplinary project consisted of twenty research groups in fifteen EU countries.
The Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme funded a project named DIGIWHIST – The Digital Whistle-blower: Fiscal Transparency, Risk Assessment and Impact of Good Governance Policies Assessed. It brings together six European research institutes, with the aim of empowering society to combat public sector corruption through the systematic collection, structuring, analysis, and dissemination of information on public procurement and on mechanisms that increase accountability.
The Internal Security Fund - Police, administered by DG HOME, has funded anti-corruption projects including:
- European Corruption Observatory: a searchable database of European media reports on corruption
- Anti-Corruption toolkit for Small and Medium-size Enterprises
- Transparency International Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres
The Structural Reform Support Service, SRSS, is a service of the European Commission with a mandate to support Member States (upon request) with the preparation, design and implementation of growth-enhancing reforms; focus on providing tailor-made support on the ground; and steer and coordinate technical support provided by the Commission. One of its areas of activity is anti-corruption. The SRSS supports Member States in embedding transparency and accountability in their administrative practices. It offers hands-on technical support for the design, planning and implementation of ethical, anti-corruption and anti-fraud strategies, as well as anti-money-laundering policies. Support is provided at all stages of the reform design and implementation. It also provides support through the design and delivery of training programmes. Additional information can be obtained by contacting: SRSS-02-GOVERNANCE-PUBLIC-ADMINISTRATION@ec.europa.eu
In 2017, DG HOME commissioned an update of a 2013 study on corruption in the healthcare sector, an area that remains particularly vulnerable. The study identified six typologies of corruption:
- bribery in medical service delivery;
- procurement corruption;
- improper marketing relations;
- misuse of (high) level positions;
- undue reimbursement claims;
- fraud and embezzlement of medicines and medical devices.
Furthermore, the Commission publishes a number of calls on research and activities related to the fight against corruption. These calls are also open to private entities and NGOs. The Commission provides funding on a regular and ongoing basis to support a wide range of projects via ISF or ESIF funds aimed at improving integrity and addressing corruption in EU Member States. Under ISF-Police, all EU States except Denmark and the United Kingdom participate in the implementation. In contrast, all EU States except Ireland and the United Kingdom participate in the implementation of the ISF-Borders instrument. The four Schengen Associated Countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) also participate in the ISF Borders and Visa instrument. Examples of beneficiaries of all programmes implemented under these funds can be state and federal authorities, local public bodies, non-governmental organisations and private and public law companies.
Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS) of the Commission provides assistance to Member State authorities in order to improve prevention and the fight against corruption. The work includes helping EU countries to design and effectively implement structural reforms, apply EU law (otherwise known as the Community acquis) in a timely manner, use EU funds efficiently and effectively. Support is available to all EU countries, upon request
In any policy field, the collection of robust data is important. In 2010, the European Council invited the Commission to develop indicators, on the basis of existing systems and common criteria, to measure efforts in the fight against corruption. Quantitative assessments of corruption rely on surveys of experience, combined with research-based expert assessments. Opinion surveys of perceptions also provide an important indication of the pervasiveness of the problem over time. Where businesses or the general public perceive corruption to be widespread, this can act as a barrier in its own right.
In addition to contributing to efforts through international fora such as the World Bank, OECD and UNODC, and drawing on respected corruption indicators from other sources, the Commission also carries out its own collection of data.
- Flash Eurobarometer survey: Businesses' attitudes to corruption in the EU
- Special Eurobarometer survey: Corruption
Under the Action Plan on Crime Statistics 2011-2015, the Commission has also worked together with Member States and independent experts to identify a set of indicators for official statistics on the treatment of corruption cases in the criminal justice system. The first collection of data on these indicators was published in 2016, covering the years 2011-2013. The report presents an overview of the availability of data, the statistics themselves, and extensive methodological notes and metadata to aid understanding. A follow-up collection is being carried out in 2017-18, for the years 2014-16.