Cracking down on corruption

LIBE MEPs talked for the need of a common strategy to counter this phenomenon in Europe

Corruption is one of the most unacceptable phenomena that erode the fabric of democracy in Europe and it is high time to crack down on it, said MEPs from the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) at a public hearing. 

It was entitled “Towards a common EU strategy to fight corruption and organised crime - strengthening instruments and enhancing cooperation between relevant actors”.

A study commissioned by LIBE a few years ago shows that the cost of a non-existent common European strategy in the field of organised crime and corruption is at least €71bn annually.

At the hearing, initiated by the Bulgarian MEP Emil Radev from EPP/GERB, took part representatives from EU institutions, prosecutors, people from academia and civil society. They discussed the necessity to develop a comprehensive strategy and approach to fight corruption and organised crime in the EU, which will further improve cross-border cooperation. It will also tackle existing gaps in the fight against organised crime and corruption, implement better supervision and develop a comprehensive policy to prevent future loopholes.

The effects of corruption and organised crime are wide spread and no Member State of the European Union is corruption-free, said Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, Chair of LIBE Committee. He underscored that they constitute a threat to security and have serious economic and social cost. The LIBE chair said also that the EU has already adopted several important pieces of legislation on fighting corruption and organised crime. Olivier Onidi, Deputy Director-General, DG Migration and Home Affairs, European Commission, said there are four axes on organised crime and corruption where, with the support of the EP, they will try to move forward and build the whole mechanism needed to combat these phenomena. First, to modernise the overall legal framework that criminalises the acts of organised crime.

He also added that drugs are a missed element in the overall strategy on fight against organised crime. We have no tools developed, and this is the largest criminal market.

Jurgen Ebner, Deputy Executive Director of Europol said that Europol believes that there is a clear need of European strategy against organised crime and corruption. He cited data from Sweden, that for the first 10 months of this year there were 279 shootings related to drug criminality.

Klaus Meyer-Cabri, Vice-President of Eurojust, stated that cross-border judicial cooperation is key in fighting corruption as corruptors or corrupted know no borders. Since 2015, Eurojust dealt with 347 complex corruption cases, supported 16 Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) and 52 coordination meetings.

The adoption of the regulation establishing the European Public Prosecutor's Office is a historical achievement, said Laura Kovesi, European Chief Prosecutor. She also stated that the EPPO is a major step in the integration of the judiciary in the EU and the outcome of more than 20 years of efforts, convincing and negotiations.

I know that the expectations of the European citizens are very high, the first ever EU Chief Prosecutor asserted. “Based on my previous experience, I think that there is a common set of requirements to be efficient in fighting corruption.” Among them are the independence of the judiciary, a specialised structure for investigating corruption, a legislation that offers efficient tools.

“There are indeed several actors, many instruments available to fight corruption and organised crime at national, European and international level. I like the idea of a strategic approach, because our action can have a real, lasting effect only if it is coherent and consistent,” she pointed out.

On EPPO, which will become operational next November, she specified that it should investigate fraud efficiently and aim at recovering damages from financial crime. “However, we will not reduce fraud in EU funds only through investigations and convictions. We also need prevention.”

I have been a prosecutor for half of my life. I am perfectly aware of the challenges ahead. Turning the EPPO into reality will not be easy, Ms Kovesi told MEPs.

During his intervention, Ivan Geshev, the incoming Bulgarian Prosecutor General, emphasised that a common EU strategy to countering corruption and organised crime is of particular importance. It is also a topical issue given the fast pace of globalisation, the phenomenon of migration and the development of international trade relations, and also given the challenges faced by the European Public Prosecutor's Office.

He outlined that the fruitful international cooperation with Europol and the active support in terms of coordination by Eurojust contributed to carrying out of more than 10 international operations. They were conducted by prosecutors from the Bulgarian Specialised Prosecutor's Office, and the competent authorities of Switzerland, Norway, France and the UK.

The most effective judicial cooperation instrument and one that facilitates investigations and criminal proceedings in terms of gathering and transferring evidence is the direct contact between law enforcement agencies and justice authorities, both in and outside the EU, Bulgaria's new Prosecutor General said.

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