Conference of State Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption
Abu Dhabi, 16-20 December 2019
EU opening statement
1. I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
2. Let me start by thanking you, Mr/Madam Chair, for guiding us through the Conference and ensuring the success of our work during these days. We would also like to thank the members of the Secretariat for their efforts.
Mr/Madam Chair, (general problem of corruption)
3. Corruption is a threat to democracy and to the rule of law. It undermines fundamental values on which our societies are based and creates a climate in which crimes and impunity prosper. Corruption is often a facilitator of crimes and a threat to security, good governance and fair competition.
4. Preventing and fighting corruption is a fundamental precondition for upholding the rule of law, peace and security, for achieving sustainable development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Preventing and fighting corruption is an integral part of the international commitments to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The implementation of the United Nations Conventions against Corruption (UNCAC) is fundamental for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 16.
5. In order to achieve these goals, we need first and foremost the political will to act upon commitments. We need sound anti-corruption laws and policies and we need strong institutions free from undue influence and with adequate capacity to enforce the laws and policies. The EU reaffirms its strong commitment to continue efforts in this field and to promote effective measures against corruption and implement international standards.
Mr/Madam Chair, (fighting corruption in the EU)
6. The fight against corruption has a central place in European internal and external policies. Preventive actions, criminalisation, freezing, confiscation and recovery of assets, international cooperation are the key elements of our comprehensive approach to roll back corruption. The European Union and its Member States have taken and continue to take determined action in all these areas.
7. The European Union is constantly striving to ensure the highest possible common standards in the fight against corruption. In October this year, we adopted new EU-wide standards for protecting whistleblowers. These rules protect whistleblowers against all forms of retaliation and are applicable in both the public and the private sector. The new legal framework will significantly aid the fight against corruption.
8. The 2018 reform of EU rules against money laundering delivered a fundamental enhancement to the EU framework by requiring Member States to make their beneficial ownership registries of companies publicly accessible, and, if not already existing, to set up centralized registries of bank account information or equivalent data retrieval systems, as well as by enhancing supervisory cooperation and by broadening the criteria for listing high-risk third countries. In addition, the Union has adopted in June 2019 new legislation facilitating the access and exchange of financial and other information and improving the cooperation between law enforcement authorities and Financial Intelligence Units and between Financial Intelligence Units. With this we have reached an important milestone in enabling and speeding up financial investigations on serious and organised crime. By mid-2021 the Asset Recovery Offices and other competent authorities will have direct access to the national centralised bank account registries or data retrieval systems. They will also be able to expediently exchange information on bank accounts. In justified cases, Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, will also be able to obtain bank account information through the national authorities, thus enabling it to support Member States' investigations more effectively.
9. We have made ground-breaking progress in establishing the European Public Prosecutor's Office, which is envisaged to take up its functions by the end of 2020 and which is competent to investigate and prosecute crimes against the financial interests of the Union, such as fraud, and related corruption and money laundering where they affect the EU budget.
10. Sharing good practices is a corner stone of our work at EU level. In 2015, we launched an EU anti-corruption experience-sharing programme. This offers anti-corruption practitioners a forum where they can to seek inspiration and learn from legislative, institutional and policy reforms in other Member States. The format is open and collaborative, allowing for a frank exchange on successful measures, but also on challenges and obstacles in effectively setting these in place. The United Nations, the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development are regularly invited to share insights in our experience-sharing workshops.
Mr/Madam Chair (fighting corruption in relations with third countries)
11. The European Union stands firmly for international cooperation. Multilateralism is the only effective solution in today’s complex world, with its many global challenges. In our relations with third countries the EU focuses on actions to prevent and combat corruption. These include (i) support to establishing a robust legal framework in line with international standards on preventing and fighting corruption; (ii) public administration reform and sound public financial management, including the development of integrity and accountability frameworks; (iii) support to justice and security sector reforms, including capacity-building, in order to ensure that corruption cases are effectively and with respect for due process investigated and prosecuted ; (iv) support to establishing and strengthening specialized anti-corruption bodies; (v) support to civil society, the media, whistle-blowers, human rights defenders, as well as Parliaments in exercising their oversight role; as well as (vi) support to the improvement of the business and investment climate.
12. Allow me to give you two examples of work done with our closest neighbours, the Western Balkans, where progress in rule of law reforms will largely determine the pace of their progress towards accession to the European Union. This includes concrete and practical progress in enforcing anti-corruption measures and legislation. The Union’s accession process aims at aligning legislation with European and international standards, establishing specialised anti-corruption institutions, and increasingly also at concrete results in the fight against corruption. In the Eastern Neighbourhood, among other initiatives, the European Union is in the process of expanding its long-term, strategic relationship with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in order to assist several countries in the region. The assessment of their anti-corruption performance is key to inform and foster evidence-based anti-corruption policy making in line with international standards and good practice. This includes, for example, the standards established by the UN Convention against Corruption, the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the Council of Europe’s Conventions on Corruption.
(Transparency, integrity and accountability in the EU institutions)
13. The European Institutions have put in place a comprehensive framework of rules on ethics and mechanisms to deter, investigate and punish misconduct, including corruption and associated wrongdoings.
14. This framework has been recently been completed with new rules to further increase transparency, integrity and accountability in the EU institutions. A new Code of Conduct for Commissioners entered into force on 1 February 2018, significantly enhancing the ethics framework at political level. In addition, in 2019, the European Commission has also revised its Anti-Fraud Strategy.
15. In July 2019, the European Union has become an observer in the Group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe. The European Union’s participation in GRECO as an observer will bring real added value to the cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe. It will facilitate our joint work on capacity-building and implementing standards on the rule of law and the fight against corruption. Also in relation with non-EU Council of Europe members, the EU actively promotes the implementation of all GRECO recommendations.
Mr/Madam Chair, (on the UNCAC implementation review)
16. The review of implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption plays an important role in the global fight against corruption. The European Union is therefore pleased to see the second cycle of review underway and welcomes its focus on preventive measures and on asset recovery. We underline the need to keep our work transparent, inclusive and cost-efficient, avoiding unnecessary administrative burdens and duplication of work. As for the European Union, we reaffirm our commitment to the review process. Discussions have started with UNODC on how the future review of the European Union could be organised. As such review would concern all EU institutions, preparatory works between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council have started.
Mr/Madam Chair, (on the participation of civil society)
17. We continue to believe that States Parties should make optimal use of all available information and expertise, including from civil society. Constructive dialogue between States Parties and civil society will improve the impact and implementation of the convention. We therefore reiterate our calls to see a more effective civil society involvement in the second review cycle as well as in the Conference of States Parties and its working groups.
Mr/Madam Chair, (on the future of fighting corruption - UNGASS)
18. We welcome the decision to organise a special session of the United Nations General Assembly dedicated to the fight against corruption in April 2021. This will be an occasion to take a firm political stance and renew global commitments in this common fight. I would like to thank the President of the Conference and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for launching the preparatory work ahead of this important event. In this respect, the EU stresses the important role of the UNODC throughout the entire preparatory period.
19. The EU and its Member States hope that the result of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Corruption of April 2021 should bring us closer to achieving our goals, by setting strong and clear commitments in a concise and results-oriented outcome document.
Mr/Madam Chair, (EU-UNODC partnership)
20. Together with our Member States, the European Union is the largest contributor to the technical assistance and capacity-building work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The European Commission alone has contributed in the past 5 years to the technical assistance and capacity-building work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime with at least 32 ongoing projects worth more than 192 million euros. On top of this, the EU Member States also provide funding for technical assistance in various regions across the globe.
21. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is one of our main partners. We commend its efforts in carrying forward the implementation review of the Convention. In 2017, the European Commission earmarked financial support for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s efforts to allow low-income countries to participate in the second cycle of the Implementation Review Mechanism, including training, assistance with the assessment questionnaire, organisation of country review visits, and promotion of good practice. In addition to this, the European Union supports the UNODC in the implementation of capacity building projects in the Western Balkan region. This financial support remains available.
22. We look forward to our continued results-oriented collaboration, keeping in mind the need for coordinated response with other multilateral organizations.