[JURI I] Fighting corruption- still a long way to go

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You can find the Topic Overview for the Committee on Legal Affairs I (JURI I) HERE!

Estonia- A brief overview of how this small EU Member State is trying to tackle corruption.

Corruption – not only is it harmful in many different economic forms, it also undermines the values of democracy. Whilst there are different forms of corruption, varying from local level bribery to international level, where elite interest groups are changing the course of governance with illegal methods, corruption is a problem worldwide. This article takes a look into one of European Union’s (EU) Member States’ corruption levels. The country under the loupe is Estonia and to get a better insight the current Board Member of Transparency International Estonia, Asso Prii, has given us a brief overview.

To start off, the interviewer asked Mr. Prii how he would evaluate the corruption level in Estonia. He noted that a good indicator to evaluate country’s corruption is Transparency International’s index, which places Estonia on the 26th place out of 175 countries. [1]

Indeed, according to 2014 report from The European Commission: “Countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia and France, the actual number of people having had to pay a bribe is low (around 2%).” The Commission’s report also emphasises that these countries appear among the good performers on the Transparency International Index. [2] Furthermore, Business Anti-Corruption Portal gives Estonia a positive evaluation by stating that it is one of the least corrupt countries in Central and Eastern Europe and one of the most competitive new EU Member States.[3]

When asked which kind of sectors are the most vulnerable to corruption, Mr. Prii pointed out that there are two main preconditions to corruption – bureaucracy and finances. He explained that financing, getting licences and political corruption, which has influence on decision-making, are areas, sectors, prone to corruption.

Estonia has taken measures to limit corruption, for example set up an e-procurement portal and related e-services (e.g. company registration and management portal and centralisation of public sector bookkeeping)[4], that showcases a good practise of the implementation of e-procurement. Additionally, Mr. Prii pointed out a strategy, which showcases the fight against corruption[5], for example it brings out certain actions the Ministry of Justice has taken, this includes leading the fight against corruption, coordinating implantation of the strategy and evaluating the implementation. Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice is accountable to the Government of Estonia. The three main goals of the Estonian anti-corruption policy are: 1) increasing awareness about corruption 2) increasing transparency in decision-making and actions 3) develop the capacity of research facilities and avoid corruption, which can be harmful to national security.

When asked what Transparency International actually does to reduce corruption in Estonia, Mr. Prii says that it is mainly to raise awareness, but also the organisation is in the role of a watchdog, when it comes to pointing out deficits in the system. The company also provides support for the public sector. Other institutions, which are oriented to decrease corruption in the country, are Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, the National Audit Office, civic associations and media.

Regarding Estonia’s legal framework to fight corruption, the interviewee says that there has not been any revolutionary development from the legal side, when it comes to prevention. However, certain amendments to the provisions of the Penal Code have been made to regulate the consequences better.

He also points out that there is still some work to do when it comes to corruption. For example, better regulations, when it comes to lobbying, registering conflicts of interest and violations of the Parliamentary Code of Conduct. He also points out that the political party funding is problematic and the whole area needs additional regulation.

When it comes to the involvement of the European Union, Mr. Prii thinks that other international players are more influential, for example, Group of States against corruption, which is a part of the Council of Europe[6] and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, whose evaluations have binding or strongly recommending proposals to change laws or policies. He thinks that the European Union has some sort of influence, but sees the internal legal frame more important than the international aspects.

Overall we can see that whilst Estonia is ranked well in the Transparency International Index, it still have some loopholes to cover and additional regulations to set in place. The European Commission’s detailed report about corruption in Estonia[7] brought out three key points this small Member State should focus on:

  • Effectively monitoring donations to political parties and applying dissuasive sanctions in case of violation;
  • Further improving oversight of public procurement and implementation of public contracts involving national or EU funds;
  • Adopting a parliamentary code of conduct accompanied by an efficient mechanism of supervision and sanction and ensuring effective scrutiny of economic interest declarations.

As stated in the beginning of the article – Estonia is 26th out of 175 countries, which should be an alarming thought, when we consider that this country still has work to do. No country in the world can say that they have won the fight against corruption; however, it is a dream worth holding on to and fighting for.

 

[1] Corruption by country. Transparency International. https://www.transparency.org/country/#EST

[2] EU Anti-Corruption Report. The European Commission. http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/documents/policies/organized-crime-and-human-trafficking/corruption/docs/acr_2014_en.pdf

[3] Business Anti-Corruption Portal. Business corruption in Estonia. http://www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/europe-central-asia/estonia/snapshot.aspx

[4] EU Anti-Corruption Report. The European Commission. http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/documents/policies/organized-crime-and-human-trafficking/corruption/docs/acr_2014_en.pdf

[5] Korruptsioonivastane tegeuvs Eestis. Korruptsioon. http://www.korruptsioon.ee/et/korruptsioonivastane-tegevus-eestis

[6] Group of States against corruption. Council of Europe. http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/greco/default_en.asp

[7] Estonia. EU Anti-Corruption Report. http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/organized-crime-and-human-trafficking/corruption/anti-corruption-report/docs/2014_acr_estonia_chapter_en.pdfEstonianParliament

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