'Nothing ever happens': EU not doing enough to tackle corruption, poll shows

'Nothing ever happens': EU not doing enough to tackle corruption, poll shows
European Elections 2019 - Election night. Credit: European Parliament

Half a year after the Qatargate corruption scandal made headlines across the world, 60% of European citizens are not satisfied with the EU's efforts to fight corruption – up 12 percentage points since July 2019, a new poll by the European Parliament has revealed.

With one year until the next elections, the EU released on Tuesday its Eurobarometer, measuring the impact of the EU's agenda on public opinion. Focussing on the bloc's role as a democratic force, 71% of citizens acknowledged the impact the EU has on their daily lives. Yet, buried in the extensive research are the negative perceptions of corruption.

Some 60% of EU citizens are not satisfied with the EU's efforts to tackle corruption. In July 2019, it was 48% – a staggering 12 percentage point increase compared to the beginning of the mandate. Though dissatisfaction in Belgium is below the EU average at 54%, this was still a rise of 16 percentage points since 2019.

"I can understand," MEP Daniel Freund (Greens-EFA – Germany) told The Brussels Times in response to the poll. "We are six months after the biggest scandal the EU institutions have ever seen... and very little has happened since then."

'Light' measures

While the poll may also refer to the situation in Member States such as Hungary, the figure will be disappointing for EU leaders who promised reforms in the aftermath of the Qatar corruption scandal. Yet the new ethics body proposed by the EU Commission will have a budget of €600,000 – less than half the money seized during the Qatargate investigations, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola unveiled 14 anti-corruption reforms in January, yet the move has appeared not to be enough to persuade polled citizens, with only one year until the EU elections.

One Year Ahead Event - Presentation of the EP Spring Eurobarometer data on public opinion toward the EU and the 2024 Elections. Credit: European Parliament

"We hope to be judged on our response," a spokesperson for Metsola told The Brussels Times. "The President immediately put a package of reforms on the table that will help build firewalls and set off alarm bells to prevent this from happening again. This is now being steadily implemented."

However, Freund disputes the action taken so far. "As of today, only two [of Metsola's reforms] have been fully implemented – meaning rule changes have taken place. That’s a bit light. The large majority of them, for now, are not done."

The EU has "reasonably" good rules when it comes to lobby transparency, conflict of interests, revolving doors, and rules with Member States, he said. "The big problem is the existing rules are not enforced. There is a culture of impunity here, and we have seen lots of cases of rules being broken, but nothing ever happens."

Freund has been leading the push for improving transparency and integrity in EU institutions, having campaigned for independent oversight and gaining a majority in the Parliament for it.  

Daniel Freud MEP (Greens/EFA). Credit: European Parliament

"That is precisely why I suggested an independent oversight for those rules, because it just doesn’t work when MEPs check on MEPs, when Commissioners check on Commissioners – the self-policing doesn’t work," Freund said.

The Green MEP fears that the Commission's upcoming proposal will have nothing to do with establishing independent oversight, but instead will be a discussion on standards within the EU institutions. "We don't need that. We need to enforce distinct rules, not a discussion on whether we need the same standards for different institutions or not."

There is a need for an ethics body in the other institutions, to reform the lobby registry to include the third-country lobbyists, Freund said, before adding: "We need the Commission and Council to do this with us."

Freund added that he is very afraid of the figures in light of the European elections in June 2024. "If we do not deliver better on transparency and the fight against corruption, it is going to show at the ballot box."

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