One year ago, we launched this website with a blog post on European Commission President Barroso’s last State of the European Union (SOTEU) address, an article that we titled “More power, less accountability?“.
At the centre of our argument last year was the impression that the European Commission was asking for more powers and more money at EU-level, but that despite the buzzwords “democracy, accountability, and transparency” used in the speech, the actual policies proposed did not come with significantly more public accountability and oversight. We have worked over the past year here in Brussels that this omission would be corrected, and in some areas such as ECB transparency and accountability we think we have helped push things in the right direction.
Last year, we however also noted that Barroso did not address the need to fight corruption in Europe, again. In anticipation of the 1st EU Anti-Corruption Report later this year (according to our latest information, it might be published in November) we were hopeful that Barroso would deliver a strong message on this subject today – but again he did not.
At the core of this year’s State of the European Union address (published text, video recording), President Barroso highlighted the upcoming European Parliament elections, the past years of the economic and political crisis, where he thinks Europe is standing today and what political and legislative activities could still be expected from the current European Commission in the months before the European Parliament elections in May 2014.
To our surprise, President Barroso did not say one word about the upcoming 1st EU Anti-Corruption report, nor did the values that stand in opposition to corruption – integrity, transparency and accountability – get a mention either.
One could get the feeling that there seems to be, at highest political level in the European Commission, a hesitation to address the need to fight corruption – and this despite the fact that we had reminded Barroso in a letter ahead of his speech of the need to show that this actually is an issue taken seriously at the highest level.
So, President Barroso, how to get out of the crisis when corruption still affects businesses, public services (for example in the health sector) and citizens all across Europe? How to build trust in European values when trust in public institutions across Europe is undermined by flawed democratic processes?
In his speech, Barroso promised, without giving a concrete date, a proposal for a mechanism to assess the state of the rule of law across the EU, stating that the European Commission’s “role as an independent and objective referee“. Yet, there is and will be no rule of law where there is corruption. And there will be no effective fight against corruption if that problem is not acknowledged at highest political level, independent of political colours and party-political fights.
One of the core tag lines of Barroso’s speech was “The EU needs to be big on big things and smaller on smaller things“. The fact that the fight against corruption was not mentioned in his speech may indicate that corruption is not a big thing, not even a small thing for Barroso, it seems to be a non-thing. It’s worth quoting his colleague, Commissioner Malmström, in this regard:
“The Commission’s best estimate is that 120 billion euros are lost each year to corruption in the 27 Member States of the EU. That is the equivalent of the whole EU-budget.“
Barroso himself stressed today that “one single year’s EU budget represents more money – in today’s prices – than the whole Marshall plan in its time!” If this amount is lost to corruption, what does it tell us about the size of the issue?
So maybe the EU and its leaders should indeed be big on big things, and hopefully today’s speech was not the last word…