24th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (19-21 March 2013)
Fight against corruption: pointers for action at local and regional levels
Heavily committed to combating corruption at local and regional levels, the Congress held a debate on Thursday 21 March 2013 with several heads of anti-corruption bodies on the best means of counteracting this "political and economic gangrene" which undermines the whole of democracy.
According to Marin Mrcela, president of the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), local and regional authorities were unfortunately more at risk from corruption than national bodies. Transparency of financial procedures, the adoption of codes of good conduct and also the ending of impunity and unjustified immunity were all useful means of curtailing abuses. Petra Kneuer, director of investigations of the European Union's Office European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) stressed that corruption, "this invisible crime that is not victimless", cost some 120 billion euros a year EU-wide and had a particularly devastating impact on the less well developed countries. OLAF had a policy of zero tolerance towards any European officials and bodies giving in to the temptation of corruption. Sir Alan Meale, British parliamentarian and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, presented the work of those two assemblies to combat corruption, pointing out that elected representatives must not only act honestly but also demonstrate and provide proof of good conduct.
Banning politicians convicted of corruption from standing for election?
Jean-Pierre Guis, president of the French ANTICOR association of elected representatives and citizens against corruption, proposed numerous ways of combating corruption at local and regional levels. He expected exemplary conduct from elected representatives and said that his association had already brought successful prosecutions against a number of political leaders convicted of corruption. To better combat the problem, he advocated limits on the duration and number of terms in elected office, as well as the strengthening of the rights of the opposition, a more participatory democracy and the introduction of regional courts of audit with the resources to be effective, the latter measure being the subject of a recent Congress recommendation. Furthermore, ANTICOR wanted elected representatives convicted of corruption or embezzlement of public money to be banned from standing for election again, a move which it saw as indispensable for the rehabilitation of political ethics.
Several Congress members then presented the efforts made by their respective cities to fight corruption in Ukraine, Russia and Bulgaria. The Netherlands, among the States with the best records in this field, were looking to consolidate integrity among elected representatives. In the eyes of some speakers though, rules should not be tightened to the extent that it would no longer be possible to "accept a bar of chocolate". Another elected representative observed that there was not necessarily a link between holding multiple offices and corruption.
Beyond rules and standards, concluded Marin Mrcela, ethics and the fight against corruption had to be instilled very early on, doubtless from school onwards. But until such time as a corruption-free world was achieved, prevention and checking remained indispensable: the president of the Congress, Herwig van Staa, announced that he had asked OLAF to set up a department to combat potential abuse and embezzlement of European funds by local authorities.
The congress will build upon this debate in order to elaborate a joint strategy for the promotion of ethics and the prevention of corruption at local and regional levels, which will be introduced progressively in all 47 member states.