Anti-corruption trends, challenges and good practices in Europe & the United States of America, the 19th General Activity report of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO)

At the end of June 2019 the Council of Europe published Anti-corruption trends, challenges and good practices in Europe & the United States of America, the 19th General Activity report of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO):  In general terms for progress on anti-corruption measures, sadly the report makes for fairly depressing reading.

GRECO was established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to monitor States’ compliance with the organisation’s anti-corruption standards: its 49 Member States include the United Kingdom and the other EU Member States, the Russian Federation and the United States of America.  GRECO prides itself on 20 years of work in this area but in the foreword to the report the President of GRECO also notes that “No country is immune to corruption.  All countries, irrespective of their position in perception indexes, are required to take concrete measures to prevent and counter corruption”, observing for example that 14 GRECO Member States have not yet ratified the Civil Law Convention of Corruption of 1999 (one of three unique treaties developed by the Council of Europe to deal with corruption), and 44 Member States received at least one recommendation on whistle-blower protection. 

GRECO’s monitoring work is organised in rounds, and the current (5th) evaluation round focuses on preventing corruption and promoting integrity in central governments (top executive functions) and law enforcement agencies, as well as checking compliance with earlier unresolved recommendations to individual Member States on themes such as identification, seizure and confiscation of corruption proceeds and reporting of corruption and whistle-blower protection (2nd round); criminalising passive and active bribery offences  and transparency of political funding (3rd round); and prevention of corruption by members of parliament, judges and prosecutors (4th round).

This report evaluated the 4th round in nearly all of the Member States and found that the UK had implemented all of GRECO’s previous recommendations on preventing corruption by MPs and prosecutors, but still had an outstanding recommendation to implement fully in relation to judges (namely, enhancing security of tenure for full-time salaried judicial office holders).

By contrast for example, France had only implemented fully a third of GRECO’s recommendations in relation to MPs and judges, and half of those relating to prosecutors; Italy had implemented only half of the recommendations for each category; Finland had implemented them all; but most other Member States still had quite some way to go, meaning that by the end of 2018 only a third of all 4th round recommendations had been implemented fully.  It is important to note that the Russian Federation and the USA (amongst others) did not make public their implementation statistics, meaning that a true picture of implementation has not been given in this report and compliance generally across the Member States is likely therefore to be even lower.  Perhaps little surprise then that the GRECO President’s foreword also observed that there is “no reason for complacency” and “in some cases GRECO is seeing regression”.

Looking forward in the 5th round of evaluation underway across the Member States, GRECO has already identified a number of shortcomings that require the UK authorities’ attention to strengthen corruption prevention in respect of ministers and senior government officials as well as law enforcement officials; including for example, making more detailed information available regarding meetings held by ministers, special advisers and senior civil servants with third parties (such as lobbyists); clarifying and broadening the scope of what are to be considered “relevant interests” in ministers’ published declarations of interests; strengthening the protection of whistle-blowers within the police service; and reaffirming the obligation for police officers to report corrupt conduct.  The UK was invited by GRECO to report on the progress of implementing these recommendations by the end of June 2019.

Meanwhile, in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, the UK scores 80 out of 100 (where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean), ranking the UK 11th out of 180 countries on perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people.  The Index’s regional analysis for Western Europe and the EU found “stagnating anti-corruption efforts and weakening democratic institutions”, warning that a number of GRECO Member States have declined in perceptions of corruption (including Malta and Turkey) whilst others should be watched carefully (such as the USA and the Czech Republic).

Update on 10 July 2019: the OECD and GRECO today announced an urgent supplementary review of GRECO Member State Greece to reflect their concerns about Greece’s decision in June 2019 to reduce its main active criminal bribery offence from a felony to the lesser offence of a misdemeanour, in potential breach of the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention.  This is not the first time that an OECD Working Group has decided to conduct a supplementary review into Greece’s anti-corruption activities, and in the Report discussed in the article above, Greece was found not to have implemented at all two-thirds of GRECO’s recommendations on preventing corruption by judges and 62% of recommendations in relation to prosecutors.  In an earlier evaluation report regarding Greece’s approach to dealing with sudden changes to funding of political parties, GRECO noted “multiple, often divergent legal changes within short periods of time, creates an unpredictable legal framework which may result in ineffective implementation and a substantial lack of transparency. It jeopardizes legal certainty and puts into question the credibility of the system.” 

Fiona Jackson
33 Chancery Lane

Fiona Jackson and other Members of Chambers frequently advise individuals, corporates and law enforcement agencies domestically and internationally in relation to alleged bribery and corruption and responding to investigations in civil and criminal matters.  Members of Chambers also provide high level training on anti-corruption measures in GRECO Member States and around the world on behalf of entities such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the National Crime Agency, the British Council and the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office.  To find out more, or to instruct us, please contact Martin Adams or Chris Chiles or call 0207 440 9950.