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Financial Accountability in the European Union

Accountability on the spot to prevent corruption

budget about €144 bn a year (2013) and a staff of more than 40,000 people working for the European Commission, the European Parliament and the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union means considerable opportunities for corruption. It is true that there have not been many corruption scandals involving the institutions of the European Union so far, but there some notorious examples, e.g. the Santer Commission’s resignation in 1999 under allegation of fraud, corruption and nepotism; and the forced resignation of the Commissioner for Health John Dalli under allegation of trading in influence in October 2012.

The European Union, just like any other supranational organisation or any State, is not immune to corruption, and citizens have the right to know the level of corruption inside its institutions. Taking this into consideration, it is incomprehensible that the first anti-corruption report launched by the European Commission at the beginning of this year (incidentally, 17 years after the adoption of the Convention on the fight against corruption involving officials of the European Communities or officials of Member States of the European Union), does not make any mention of how corruption is perceived inside the European institutions, focusing instead on the Member States alone. Yet, we should not forget that it was the European Union itself that adopted the aforementioned convention to fight against corruption “involving officials of the European Communities”, and not only officials of the Member States.

Until the EU launches an initiative to gather data on corruption involving its own officials, it must continue to combat this phenomenon blindly. The EU anti-corruption strategy has been traditionally focused on criminalisation, paying less attention to prevention. For instance, the above mentioned convention requires Member States to establish active and passive corruption as a criminal offence. However, it does not contain any preventive measure. This situation ignores a reality: “It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them” – to borrow the words of Cesare Beccaria in his work “Of Crimes and Punishments” (1764) – since if we prevent a crime, the consequences can be avoided. Concerning corruption: economic underdevelopment, delegitimisation of the rule of law, the undermining of democracy…

This is why, in my opinion, the European Union should focus its anti-corruption strategy on adopting preventive measures. In this regards, giving civil society access to information public relevance is an essential measure. Information and communication technologies can facilitate this task nowadays since they offer citizens the opportunity to demand information immediately. That is real accountability on-the-spot.

By Demelsa Benito Sánchez

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