Photo: Laura Codruţa Kövesi, Head of the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office
Much has already been said on France’s decision to say “no”, take some time and reconsider the approach towards EU enlargement strategy in the Western Balkans. Macron’s method to strengthen France’s international position and renew the EU’s credibility on the global scene has already shifted the dynamic of discussing the scope of existing EU challenges. Understanding the complexity of corruption and its widescale influence is one of these. Under EU conditionality, progress in tackling corruption is considered a key indicator of a state’s democratic capacities to stand and protect EU democratic values and the financial interests of the European single market. Europe’s goal of taking global leadership in innovative economics and technology in various sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, mobility and the creative industries, also requires comprehensive anti-corruption measures, administrative capacities and a change of businesses attitudes in taking measures designed to prevent and detect acts of corruption. In this context, concerns regarding links between corruption and organised crime and different levels of infiltration, of high-level government institutions, businesses and members of the political arena alike, indeed increase the need for closer monitoring of state capture risks and the interactions between public organisations and individuals/businesses.
That said, corruption is simply too complex a phenomenon to be understood only as a threat coming from the Western Balkans or limited to some EU countries monitored under the European Semester. Corruption erodes trust in institutions, it undermines the democratic system(s) of values and principles and sets back the revitalisation of national economies. High levels of trust in exercising democratic standards, principles and values are necessary for citizens to start owning and empowering the laws, to demand transparency and accountability, and to engage in a process of economic, political and social transformation. In other words, corruption is a social threat “that bridges both Europe’s North-South and East-West divides as it knows no borders, nor cares for national differences”. Moreover, this negative phenomenon is deeply embedded in the political systems of the societies in question, and is pre-conditioned by the welfare types of states, which also affects the dynamic of controlling corruption.
The control of corruption is often accompanied by promoting the rule of law, and this has also been at the heart of American security policy for like-minded democracies. Hence, the US has long been supporting Central and Eastern European societies to strengthen their rule-of-law capacities, judiciaries and anti-corruption policies. Yet, this dynamic has started to change under the Trump administration, as discussed in a new article by the Economist: “Instead of backing anti-corruption stances by its embassies, the Trump administration has sometimes undercut them.” Moreover, anti-corruption experts have already raised concerns that the United States is waking up much too late “to what corruption, shell corporations, tax evasion, and illicit financing can do to the integrity of democratic elections and institutions”.
Therefore, a new methodology for measuring democratic progress in the Western Balkans, introduced by France, can also serve as a baseline to start re-designing the EU anti-corruption strategy and inviting EU member states to re-introduce the anti-corruption policy discussion to the EU agenda. France has already taken national steps forward in acknowledging the necessity of preventing and combatting corruption in a comprehensive manner. France’s law no. 2016-1691, known as the “Sapin II” law, adopted in 2016, aims to promote transparency, fight corruption and modernise the economy by taking anticorruption measures designed to change the behavior of businesses. Moreover, this law was “adopted after a lengthy parliamentary debate followed by a control of its constitutionality”, which can raise the standard for the national parliaments in the Western Balkans. Second, President Macron decided to back the Romanian candidate Kövesi for the position of European Public Prosecutor’s Office, rather than his countryman Jean-François Bohnert. This has been a welcoming sign that the EU can finally get serious in addressing corruption in a comprehensive manner and take significant steps to safeguard key democratic principles, protect human rights and revitalise the EU’s (internal) core normative pillars. Moreover, the rising role of the European Parliament in exercising democratic accountability and holding Commissioners to account is gaining in significance, setting a new path in shaping the role of the modern EU. Taking a new approach in re-designing EU anti-corruption strategy can also strengthen France’s relations with the EU candidate countries, revitalise the EU approach towards Central and Eastern European countries, and find common ground to gain new momentum in strengthening EU-US relations.
Dissclaimer: The views expressed here reflects only the author’s view and the Research Executive Agency or the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.