Criminal sanctions for Community officials involved in corruption scandals

Corruption has devastating effects on both economics and political systems. It distorts public expenditure, eliminates free competition, increases inequality, undermines the institutions of democracy, etc. It is clear that the best way to fight corruption is to adopt preventive measures: ensure transparency, provide easy access to public information, put in place effective internal control mechanisms and protective measures for whistleblowers, etc. If, and despite the implementation of preventive measures, corruption continues, the persons responsible must be punished through criminal law measures.

All States have criminalised corruption involving domestic officials for centuries. However, few of them have worried about the corruption of officials of international organisations – until recently. In the framework of the European Union, concerns about corruption stem not only from its impact on Member States’ economies, but also from its effect on the EU as a whole: corruption hampers the fair operation of the internal market, it puts the financial interest of the EU at risk, and erodes the legitimacy of its political institutions. Corruption consequently endangers the existence of the EU itself.

In a model of regional integration such as the EU, fighting against domestic corruption alone is not enough. States must involve themselves in countering corruption affecting the EU institutions because the EU does not have competence in criminal matters to punish individuals involved in corruption conducts within the EU public administration.

With the aim of solving this situation, the EU adopted a number of legal documents during the nineties that oblige Member States to adopt criminal law measures against corruption involving Community officials. The most significant one is the Convention on the fight against corruption of 1999, which requires Member states to criminalise any act of bribery related to a Community official. Penalties in these cases must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive, including, in the most serious cases, penalties involving deprivation of liberty, giving way to extradition.

The lack of sufficient commitment by the Member States in the fight against corruption has led to the belated implementation of this Convention. However, despite the delay, every Member State now fulfils the Convention’s mandate to integrate the bribery of Community officials as a criminal offence into their national legal order. Nevertheless, the actual enforcement of the criminal law measures against corruption remains a mystery, since the EU has not gathered any data so far. The Anti-corruption Report launched in 2014 only offers data on corruption at Member State level, but remains silent on corruption within the EU institutions.

The absence of this data means we are unable to measure the effectiveness of the EU anti-corruption criminal policy with respect to its own officials. The European Commission needs to promote the collection of data on offences of bribery involving Community officials. This information should be featured in the second EU Anti-corruption Report due next year.

By Demelsa Benito Sánchez

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