The European Union Integrity System Project

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The EU integrity study

Previous Transparency International (TI) studies examined how national political systems address corruption risks and foster integrity all around the world. The TI EU Office has, throughout 2013 and 2014, assess how the EU institutions deal with ethics, how they ensure transparency and accountability, and how they ultimately prevent corruption risks.

Yet, the EU is not just what happens within the EU institutions, but also what happens around them. Our study contextualises how public and private interests as well as the media contribute to holding “Brussels” to account.

Why does EU integrity matter?

In 2012, Transparency International published the European National Integrity Systems report analysing the results from 25 studies on integrity in 23 EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland. The reports demonstrated that no European state has a perfect record regarding anti-corruption measures. Weaknesses in the anti-corruption system are always present and potentially lead to corruption risks.

Our Europe-wide research showed where corruption risk exist at the national level and hinted at potential problems at EU-level. Yet, it provided few details about specific weak points at EU-level that could lead to impaired decision-making, potentially affecting citizens all across Europe.

In order to identify specific integrity risks at the EU-level and produce recommendations for reform, TI-EU has decided to perform an assessment of the EU’s integrity system. The challenge: the EU is more complex than any national system, and analysing it in the same way that we look at nation states would be impossible. Our approach must take account of these differences, while we still look at similar risks: bribery, revolving doors, undue influence, conflicts of interest, etc. How is “Brussels” equipped to address such threats to the public interest?

Traditionally, we study a number of ‘pillars’ that should keep a national integrity system upright. These ‘pillars’ are essential public institutions that take decisions on citizens’ behalf or civil society actors which hold policymakers to account. If one pillar fails, or lacks sufficient power to check public decision-makers, then corruption risks, such as a lack of transparency, may endanger the entire structure. These ‘pillars ‘ at the national -level include:

  • The Executive;
  • The Legislature;
  • The Judiciary;
  • The Supreme Audit Institution;
  • Electoral Management Bodies;
  • Law Enforcement Agencies;
  • The Office of the Ombudsman;
  • Political Parties;
  • The Media;
  • Business Interests;
  • Civil Society;
  • The Public Sector;
  • Anti-Corruption Agencies

Adapting these ‘pillars’ to the EU reality poses a number of questions for our research team. For example, what is the ‘Legislative’ or the ‘Executive’ pillar at the EU-level? At the national level, it is usually very clear who makes the law, who interprets it and who enforces it. However, at the EU-level, those lines are blurred, with several EU institutions sharing these tasks and responsibilities.

In addition, certain ‘pillars’ do not exist at all at EU-level. There is no EU election commission; elections to the European Parliament are managed by national electoral bodies. Yet, Members of the European Parliament are supposed to represent all EU citizens. In other areas, Brussels has a very limited role: national, not European authorities, provide most public services to citizens, even when decisions are made at EU-level. The research team has to consider these questions carefully and adapt the existing tools to study the integrity of EU institutions and of those around them.

How are we doing the study?

Our research follows closely the core corruption risks identified in our European study, using the methods developed through various national studies previously conducted by Transparency International. For each ‘pillar’ of the EU system, we look at (1) resources, (2) independence, (3) transparency, (4) accountability, and (5) integrity mechanisms. The research team reviews legal documents, studies administrative reports, consults previous academic research and interviews inside and outside experts, to test how these five elements measure up in law and in practice to safeguard the EU from corruption risks.

What have we done so far?

Throughout 2013, we have not only done desk research but also visited most EU institutions to meet and interview relevant actors for our study.

The ‘pillars’ of the EU’s integrity system are not just based in Brussels but spread around Strasbourg, Luxembourg, Frankfurt and the Hague. Learning how they ensure integrity internally and how they check other institutions is part of our research. Following some of our research trips, we would like to share some images captured along the way:


The Advisory Group

In order to support the research team, the Transparency International EU Office will work with a panel of experts, each with in-depth knowledge and several years of professional experience in and around the EU institutions.


The study’s approach has been presented at the 3rd Global Conference on Transparency Research at HEC Paris on 24 October 2013 through a research paper titled “Square pegs and round holes? Challenges in assessing the EU-level integrity system“.


For further information concerning any aspect of the European Union Integrity Study, please contact Ronny Patz, Lead Advocate on EU integrity issues, or Mark Perera Lead Researcher for the study.

The study is currently financed by:

If you would like to support this study or our general work
financially or as a volunteer, do not hesitate to contact us.