Written by Sofija Voronova.
International Anti-Corruption Day is marked every year on 9 December to raise awareness of the negative effects of corruption on all areas of life. While difficult to measure, corruption entails not only economic but also social and political costs. International and EU anti-corruption efforts have translated into a multi-layered policy and legal framework. The European Parliament recently called for strengthened EU anti-corruption rules.
Why an International Anti-Corruption Day?
On 31 October 2003, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and designated 9 December as International Anti-Corruption Day, to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of the convention in combating and preventing it. On the eve of the convention’s 20th anniversary, the 2022 edition of International Anti-Corruption Day, dubbed UNCAC at 20: Uniting the World Against Corruption, seeks to highlight the link between the absence of corruption and peace, security, and development.
The negative impact of corruption on sustainable development and human rights is widely recognised by the international community. According to the UN, corruption ‘undermines the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has a negative impact on peace, stability, security, the rule of law, gender equality, the environment and human rights’. The importance of action against corruption is explicitly highlighted in SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), with its set targets for reducing bribery, strengthening institutions and ensuring public access to information. Preventing corruption is instrumental in the achievement of all the other goals.
Cost and prevalence of corruption
While corruption is difficult to measure, it is known to be costly, in economic but also in political and social terms. It hampers growth and the distribution of benefits across populations, by undermining trust in public institutions, weakening the state’s capacity to perform its core functions and hindering public and private investment. In 2016, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated the yearly cost of bribery alone at about US$1.5 trillion to US$2 trillion (around 2 % of global gross domestic product – GDP). Regarding the European Union (EU), the 2016 European Parliamentary Research Service cost of non-Europe report found that corruption costs the EU economy between €179 billion and €990 billion per year, representing up to 6 % of EU GDP in terms of lost tax revenue and investment.
Moreover, corruption facilitates the infiltration of organised crime networks in all sectors of society, including politics and law enforcement. According to the latest Europol threat assessment, more than 80 % of criminal networks active in the EU use legal business structures for their criminal activities, and around 60 % engage in corruption. Europol underlines that corruption takes place at all levels of society, ranging from petty bribery to complex multi-million-euro corruption schemes. Not only does it hinder economic development, it also weakens state institutions and erodes the rule of law.
The 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) from Transparency International (TI) reveals that not much progress has been made in reducing perceived corruption levels across the world, with the global average rate unchanged for 10 years in a row (43 out of 100 points, with 100 meaning perceived as the least corrupt). No country is exempt from corruption. According to TI, anti-corruption efforts have stalled in Europe too, although western Europe and the EU still register the best scores (with an average of 66 out of 100). Behind this image of the least corrupt region in the world, significant differences persist within the EU: while 6 EU countries are in the top 10, 5 score less than 50 out of 100 points). Another TI survey, the 2021 Global Corruption Barometer, dedicated to the EU, shows that 62 % of respondents consider government corruption to be a big problem in their country while 30 % pay a bribe or use a personal connection to access public services. The recent Eurobarometer surveys on perception of corruption by EU citizens and businesses show a similar picture: 68 % of citizens believe that corruption is still widespread in their country, especially in national public institutions, political parties and among politicians at various levels. A similar share of EU businesses (63 %) point to widespread corruption across all activity sectors surveyed (this view is shared by even higher proportions of businesses active in healthcare (68 %) and financial services (66 %)); and 70 % indicate that favouritism and corruption hamper business competition in their country.
Global response to corruption
The very first international instrument was adopted in 1997 in the context of international trade. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention (Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions) introduced a legally binding obligation to criminalise bribery, focusing on the ‘supply-side’ of bribery transactions. There are 44 parties to the convention (all OECD and 6 non-OECD countries). In 2021, the parties agreed on a new Anti-Bribery Recommendation, complementing the original convention, designed to reinforce prevention, detection and investigation of foreign bribery.
In 1999, the Council of Europe (CoE) adopted two other tools: the Civil Law Convention on Corruption and the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. The Criminal Law Convention aims at the coordinated criminalisation of a large number of corrupt practices and better international cooperation in the prosecution of corruption offences. The Civil Law Convention was the first attempt to define common international rules in the field of civil law and corruption, providing effective remedies for persons having suffered damage as a result of acts of corruption, including the possibility of obtaining compensation.
The year 2003 saw the adoption of the above-mentioned UN Convention against Corruption, the only universal legally binding instrument addressing corruption in a comprehensive manner. It covers five main areas: preventive measures, criminalisation and law enforcement, international cooperation, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange. The convention requires state parties to establish as criminal offences many different forms of corruption, such as bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions, and various acts of corruption in the private sector. It contains an entire chapter dedicated to prevention and a specific chapter on asset recovery, as well as provisions on mutual legal assistance. At this point in time, 189 states across the world have joined the convention and committed to its obligations.
All EU Member States are party to the UNCAC and the CoE conventions, and are bound by corresponding standards. However, the EU has sought to coordinate and support Member States’ efforts within the limits of shared competence, provided by the EU Treaties, in the area of freedom, security and justice. As part of its anti-corruption policy, the EU has adopted several instruments, including legislation on corruption in the private sector, on public procurement rules (Directives 2014/23/EU, 2014/24/EU, and 2014/25/EU), on anti-money-laundering efforts and on whistleblower protection. Protection of the EU budget, including against corruption, is governed by the 2017 Directive on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests (PIF Directive) and falls within the competence of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), operating since 1 June 2021. The EU has also sought to address corruption outside its territory through its external action and international trade tools, such as trade agreements and human rights dialogues. The European Commission has recently announced a review of the EU’s anti-corruption legislative framework and an update of the EU sanctions toolbox to include corruption, as advocated by Parliament.
|European Parliament position|
The European Parliament has addressed corruption, both within the EU and in the context of external policies, in numerous resolutions and reports. Most recently, it has looked into systemic challenges to the rule of law and deficiencies in the fight against corruption across the EU, focusing for instance on measures to prevent corruption and the misuse of national and EU funds. Parliament has called repeatedly either for legislative amendments to extend the scope of the current EU global human rights sanctions regime to cover corruption, or for a new sanctions regime to address serious acts of corruption. In February 2022, Parliament adopted recommendations on corruption and human rights, calling for an EU global anti-corruption strategy, enhanced support for anti-corruption capacity-building, and a strengthened EU anti-corruption framework, including an anti-corruption directive establishing common minimum rules for criminal sanctions against corruption.
Read this ‘at a glance’ on ‘International Anti-Corruption Day‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.