Anti-corruption in the European Semester - to protect our economies
Preventing and fighting corruption is an important aspect of the European Semester cycle of economic governance, which is the main dialogue on economic policy between the EU and national authorities.
The European Semester country reports include detailed analysis of corruption risks and associated challenges. In relevant cases, these issues are also reflected in Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), endorsed each year by national leaders in the European Council.
- to tackle inefficient practices in public procurement
- to strengthen rules for preventing conflicts of interest
- to revise the statute of limitations for corruption offences
- to address informal payments in healthcare
In the context of the European Semester on economic governance, eight EU countries have so far received Country-Specific Recommendations relating to corruption in the years 2020 and 2019. In addition, recitals on corruption are included for all those EU countries where structural challenges exist regarding their anti-corruption capacity.
Protecting Next Generation EU funds
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 has generated devastating effects in our society. New vulnerabilities have emerged in the context of the COVID-19, with corruption risks increasing particularly in two specific sectors - the health sector and the area of public procurement, where important safeguards have been lifted to allow for the swift distribution of medical equipment and supplies. Other vulnerabilities appeared with regard to diminishing transparency of and access to information of public administrations. This increases risks of abuse of power and high-level corruption. While the fight against corruption has been a long-standing challenge, crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic heighten the importance for stronger and more robust anti-corruption and good governance measures.
The changed context driven by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the temporary adaptation of the European Semester to coordinate it with the Recovery and Resilience Facility. The Recovery and Resilience Facility is the key instrument at the heart of Next Generation EU (a temporary recovery instrument) to help the EU mitigate the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic and make European economies and societies more sustainable and resilient.
The fight against corruption, fraud and the prevention of conflicts of interest are key measures integrated in the recovery and resilience plans of each EU country to protect the financial interests of the Union.
EU agencies and bodies that protect EU’s budget
At operational level, the EU works to protect the Union’s financial interests and to ensure that the Next Generation EU funds are safeguarded from corruption and fraud. In particular, a number of agencies and bodies have key roles to play in safeguarding the EU budget:
Established by Council Regulation (EU) 2017/1939, EPPO is an independent EU body which investigates and prosecutes perpetrators of criminal offences affecting the EU’s budget, including active and passive corruption that damages, or is likely to damage, the EU’s financial interests.
The EPPO is operational since 1 June 2021 and has already opened around 300 investigations for an estimated damage to the EU budget of almost EUR 4 billion. Currently, 22 EU countries participate in the EPPO.
The last EPPO annual report can be found here.
The main responsibilities of OLAF:
- carries out independent investigations into fraud and corruption involving EU funds to ensure that all EU taxpayers’ money reaches projects that can create jobs and growth in Europe
- contributes to strengthening citizens’ trust in EU institutions by investigating serious misconduct by EU staff
- develops a sound EU anti-fraud policy
OLAF is part of the European Commission, but has operational independence and is governed by Commission Decision (EU) 2015/2418.
The last OLAF annual report can be found here.
Eurojust improves the coordination of cross-border investigations and prosecutions. It also boosts cooperation between national authorities who handle serious cross-border crime, including corruption, fraud, money laundering or organised crime.
Eurojust is actively involved in supporting judicial cooperation related to the specific field of corruption and has broad experience in supporting the competent national authorities in fighting corruption.
Europol is the EU’s law enforcement agency and assists law enforcement authorities in EU countries. The agency offers a wide range of services, including:
- support for law enforcement operations on the ground
- a hub for information on criminal activities
- centre of law enforcement expertise
Europol’s daily business is based on its strategy. Specific objectives are set out in the Europol annual work programme. Europol is designed to operate in partnership with law enforcement agencies, government departments and the private sector on serious international and organised crime. This cooperation is based on Europol’s Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA).