Lessons learned from the EU’s “Cash-for-Amendments” scandal?

This week, former MEP Ernst Strasser was sentenced in first instance to four years in prison for corruption by an Austrian court. Strasser was accused in March 2011 of being one of four MEPs soliciting cash for amendments to EU legislation.

Picture by Remo-, Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0 (Flickr).

Corruption undermines confidence in public institutions and citizens’ fundamental rights, good governance and the rule of law. A recent Eurobarometer poll shows that 40% of EU citizens believe that too close a relationship between politics and business contributes to corruption.

We here at the Transparency International EU Office made a number of recommendations to the European Parliament to improve its anti-corruption safeguards in the wake of these revelations two years ago. Though some of these were acted upon since then, such as the establishment of a Code of Conduct for MEPs, weaknesses in the system still remain. For example, there is nothing to stop former MEPs walking straight into a private sector job with business interests, regulated by their previous portfolio. And topics such as the introduction of a mandatory EU lobby register continue to be discussed here in Brussels.

The “cash-for-amendments” scandal thus showed a need for lesson-learning on the EU side. Yet, the differences in anti-corruption enforcement by the EU Member States concerning the four MEPs (coming from different EU countries) in this controversy raises the question of whether a further coordinated response from the EU-level would better serve the fight against corruption across the EU.

The European Commission is currently considering a proposal for the establishment of a European Public Prosecution Office (EPPO) – which we have supported in the past. The extent of its powers, and particularly the question whether this office would also be able to address serious crimes, such as cross-border corruption cases, still primarily depends on the political will of EU member states.

Whether the EPPO would be able to become involved in any future case similar to the “cash-for-amendments” affair will be part of the discussions we will be seeing in the EU in the months to come. We definitely believe that cross-border crime and threats to the EU’s financial interests through corrupt acts need a cross-border response. The proposed European Public Prosecutor should fill this gap – and others agree!

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