The European Commission Declares War on Corruption

By Giulio Nessi

A new system for monitoring a criminal scourge is being put in place by the EU, strengthening the poorly enforced norms currently on the European books. Will this be enough to make a dent in Italy's endemic and widely tolerated culture of corruption?

The Attorney General of the Italian Court of Accounts has stated that corruption is endemic in the country, breeding "a veritable culture of corruption". All should thus welcome the presentation by the European Commission of a series of norms that the EU intends to put in place over the next years to prod member states to act against a crime which is estimated to cost Europe €120 billion (€60 billion in Italy alone).
While European Treaties indicate the fight against corruption as a priority, the so-called anti-corruption package is the first actual step in this direction. Until now the European Union had only sporadically addressed the issue with scarcely-binding moves, unable to generate the necessary sense of political urgency in member states.
So the measures presented on June 6 by the European Commissioner for Internal Affairs, Cecilia Malström, seem to mark a break with the past. Starting in 2013, every two years a "EU Anti-Corruption Report" will be released, in which the results and the lack thereof of the actions of member states against corruption will come under scrutiny. On the basis of the these reports, the Commission will evaluate the appropriateness of further initiatives, such as the harmonization of national penal definitions of corruption. Supporting this mechanism of control and oversight, there will be participation of the European Union in GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption), created in 1999 within the Council of Europe.
The proposal of introducing a reporting system for the assessment of the fight against against corruption is a significant step forward, considering that until now the EU only monitored candidates for accession, not existing members. The effectiveness of the new mechanism will depend on how the EU will interact with GRECO: if the strategy of Commission is to increase pressure on member states, it will be fundamental to avoid overlaps and confusion between the two systems. Also, depending of the level of involvement with GRECO, it will be possible to monitor the level of corruption in European institutions themselves, in the light of the scandals that affected the Commission in the past, and, more recently, the European Parliament.

So by exploiting synergies with other international organizations (the Council of Europe, in primis) to monitor corruption, the European Union can credibly present itself as a new protagonist in the struggle against this chronic problem. It is then possible that the member states will be pushed to address more rigorously a crime that subtracts huge sums from public finances already adversely hit by the crisis. Still, the doubt remains whether this is enough to cut corruption in a country like Italy which is becoming addicted to it to the point of developing of culture of tolerance of the intolerable.
Via Sarfatti 25