Ask EP By / February 22, 2021

What is the European Union (EU) doing to combat corruption in EU countries?

Citizens recurrently turn to the European Parliament to comment on various cases of alleged corruption. Furthermore, they request information on how to lodge a complaint and to ask the EU to act in the fight against corruption.

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Businessman hand offer bribes money in envelope for signing in a contract of business project, Government officials refused, concept of corruption and anti bribery.
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Citizens recurrently turn to the European Parliament to comment on various cases of alleged corruption. Furthermore, they request information on how to lodge a complaint and to ask the EU to act in the fight against corruption.

Corruption remains a challenge for society as a whole and is a serious crime that can have a cross-border dimension. Fighting crime is primarily a competence of authorities in EU countries, which remain ultimately responsible for key aspects linked to the fight against corruption: law enforcement, judicial measures taken on the ground, and budgetary resources allocated to policing and the administration of justice.

According to Article 83 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the European Union may establish minimum rules to define criminal offences and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension, such as money laundering, corruption and organised crime.

In February 2014, the European Commission presented an EU Anti-corruption Report. Although intended as the first of a series, in 2017, the Commission decided not to produce any updates. Since its publication, the report has served as the basis for dialogue with national authorities while also informing broader debates across Europe.

European Parliament action

In a 2016 resolution on the fight against corruption, the European Parliament called inter alia for the adoption of a European action plan to eradicate organised crime, corruption and money laundering, for a stronger legal framework and for better cross-border judicial cooperation. It also recommended that EU countries strive to ensure efficient transparency, monitoring and accountability mechanisms in their use of EU funds.

In September 2020, the European Parliament set up a Subcommittee on tax matters (FISC) to assist the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) on tax-related matters and particularly the fight against tax fraud, tax evasion and tax avoidance. According to a 2016 Eurobarometer survey, 75 % of EU citizens would like the EU to intervene more to tackle tax fraud, making it one of the areas with the strongest support for greater EU involvement.

EU rules against corruption

Among the legislative initiatives introduced in recent years to combat corruption at EU level, examples include the Directive on the Freezing and confiscation of proceeds of crime, the 5th Anti-money laundering Directive, the Public Procurement Directives and the Directive on the Use of financial information to fight certain criminal offences.

In May 2018, the Commission published a legislative proposal aiming to establish an EU anti-fraud programme. The programme is based on Article 325 of the TFEU, which provides for an obligation shared between EU countries and the EU to protect the Union’s financial interests and to counter fraud, corruption and any other illegal activities affecting them.

Fraud against the EU budget

The European Commission publishes an annual report on the fight against fraud affecting EU financial interests. As the EU prepares to mobilise unprecedented sums to tackle the coronavirus crisis and its consequences, the positive results achieved in recent years provide a solid basis to meet future challenges for European and national authorities in their fight against fraud.

EU mechanisms to fight corruption

In the framework of the cooperation and verification mechanism for Bulgaria and Romania, the European Commission regularly reports on advancement with judicial reform and the fight against corruption in these countries, inviting them to take action in different areas, in order to develop the effective administrative and judicial systems.

The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) is an EU body mandated to investigate fraud against the EU budget, corruption and serious misconduct within the European institutions, and to develop anti-fraud policy for the European Commission. Anyone can contact the office anonymously to report cases of fraud. Once it concludes an investigation, the European Anti-Fraud Office recommends action to the EU institutions and national governments concerned: this usually includes launching criminal investigations, financial recoveries or other disciplinary measures. It then monitors how these recommendations are implemented.

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) is a new body responsible for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment crimes against the financial interests of the European Union. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office has a decentralised but hierarchical structure composed of European prosecutors at EU level and European delegated prosecutors in each EU country. Currently, 22 EU countries participate in the enhanced cooperation (so far, Hungary, Poland and Sweden have decided not to join the EPPO, while Denmark and Ireland have an opt-out from the area of freedom, security and justice). As an autonomous body, the EPPO could overcome potential unwillingness on the part of national authorities to investigate certain sensitive corruption cases. Once the European Public Prosecutor’s Office has finalised its administrative set-up, it will be possible to report a criminal offence affecting the EU’s financial interests directly to the EPPO.

Further information

Keep sending your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.

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