When the country is mired in corruption, national anticorruption agencies are practically powerless. Then international organizations come to the rescue. One of the most respected is the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), established by the Council of Europe in 1999. In addition to European countries, it includes, among others, Russia and the United States. In May 2019, this organization celebrated its 20th anniversary.
In an exclusive interview for Anticorr.media, GRECO Executive Secretary Gianluca Esposito told how they manage to influence countries, is there a «universal recipe» against corruption and do officials need immunity from criminal prosecution.
Anticorr.media: Mr. Esposito, recently GRECO organization celebrated its 20th anniversary. What results have been achieved at this point?
– The work of GRECO – but also of the three other international anti-corruption monitoring bodies – have brought about real change in the collective action against corruption during the past 20 years. To mention just a few examples: bribes to foreign public officials are no more tax deductible, legal persons can be criminally liable, special investigative techniques are used in corruption investigations, private sector corruption is widely considered as a criminal offence across our membership, criminal law are increasingly harmonized, political financing is better regulated and ethics standards for politicians and the judiciary are increasingly present in member states.
GRECO is undoubtedly a key player in upholding the Rule of Law in Europe today.
Anticorr.media: What countries for the last rounds receive the least recommendations? And which receive the most amount? Was there a case, when a country didn’t get any criticism from GRECO at all?
– In its evaluation reports, GRECO initially makes a full assessment of compliance with international anti-corruption standards with regard to specific topics. Depending on each country´s situation and the shortcomings GRECO identifies, it issues a number of recommendations. The number of recommendations a country receives is not that important. Every country is different, yet no country is immune to corruption. What matters is the extent to which countries comply with GRECO recommendations.
Every year, GRECO’s General Activity Report reflects the state of play of implementation of GRECO recommendations by our members. The last one was published on 25 June 2019 and there you can see how countries are doing in complying with our recommendations.
Anticorr.media: A high level of arrests and criminal cases against corrupted officials – is it a good or bad indicator for the country? How is it possible to estimate the real level of corruption?
– When corruption takes place and a conviction is pronounced, we have all failed, society has failed. So, before focusing on the inevitable repressive aspect, GRECO urges countries not to underestimate the necessary prevention of corruption. Not only prevention is better than cure, but ethics and integrity standards if effectively implemented can go a long way in reducing and even stopping corruption.
We call on everyone not to underestimate the strength of corruption preventive measures. Also, perception index don’t represent the real level of corruption in any given country. The higher or lower perception of corruption and the measures countries have taken or not taken to prevent corruption may not necessarily coincide.
Anticorr.media: How does GRECO make a decision whether or not the recommendation is implemented: by a majority votes of experts, by calculating a certain index or by something else?
– GRECO discusses every single recommendation and decisions are usually taken by consensus, generally without the need for any voting. If voting is needed – and it has happened at times – the majority prevails.
Anticorr.media: What are the universal and effective methods effective in the fight against corruption? What are the major problems?
Tackling corruption requires a multi-disciplinary approach involving both preventive and repressive measures. It requires focusing on such areas as education, ethics and integrity standards, civil, commercial, criminal and administrative law, international cooperation, financial transparency, whistleblower protection, and even sport. Every country has its own specificity, so there is no one single problem that occurs everywhere.
In some countries, for instance, the independence of the judiciary is an issue, in others transparency of political party funding, in others the effective implementation of the criminal legislation is not on par with the international requirements, and in yet other countries corruption touches several aspects of the functioning of the state.
Anticorr.media: What do you think about the immunity of officials? In many countries, this is a common practice, but nowadays there is a trend to limit their immunity.
Immunity must not result in impunity. Where immunity exists, it should be functional, that is limited to the exercise of the functions exercised by the public official.
Anticorr.media: If a member-country does not comply with the recommendations of GRECO, what sanctions may follow? What is the motivation for a country to comply with the recommendations?
GRECO has a graduated compliance and non-compliance procedure that allows it to exercise an increasing pressure on member states to comply with our recommendations. Most members comply with our recommendations. Ultimately, in case of persistent non-compliance, GRECO may issue a public Declaration of non-compliance. This Declaration – which GRECO issued so far only once in respect of Belarus – may have negative legal, political, reputational and economic consequences.
Complying with GRECO’s recommendations is first and foremost in the interest of the country itself. A country shouldn’t have a strong anti-corruption system in place because someone else said so, but because it believes it is necessary to strengthen Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, and to foster economic development and growth. However, clearly, not complying with GRECO’s recommendations, may also bear negative legal, political, reputational and economic consequences that countries do not want to bear.
Anticorr.media: What criteria must be met in order to become a GRECO expert?
There are GRECO members designated by the member states and GRECO evaluators and rapporteur also indicated by member states, but selected by GRECO on a case-by-case basis, for each evaluation or compliance report
Anticorr.media: GRECO monitors only legislative measures or also compliance with these laws? How does the organization separate the cases of a real fight against corruption with unfounded prosecution?
GRECO’s mandate is to monitor not only compliance with but also effective implementation of the anti-corruption standards of the Council of Europe. GRECO is not going through a tick-the-box exercise or formal compliance, but rather looks at the extent to which anti-corruption measures produce effective results in practice.
Each round GRECO explores a new area. How to avoid a situation when at first the country successfully implemented the recommendations of the previous round, and some years later it has problems in the same area again. Can GRECO experts detect this case?
Since a couple of years now, GRECO has a new Rule 34 in its Rules of Procedures which allows it to carry out ad hoc evaluations whenever we see that a country is going against an anti-corruption standard that GRECO has already evaluated. This tool allows GRECO to capture the situation you are describing. GRECO has already carried out ad hoc evaluations in respect of two countries.
Anticorr.media: Does GRECO cooperate with countries that are not members of the organization? What interesting events are waiting for GRECO in the near future?
GRECO cooperates with non-member states in a variety of ways. First, two non-Council of Europe member states are members of GRECO, i.e., Belarus and the United States. Second, GRECO participates regularly in global fora such as the OECD, the UN and the G20 where cooperation with non-member states is strong.
Finally, additional non-member states are requesting accession to GRECO: Tunisia and Kazakhstan (both countries have now been invited to join GRECO and I trust the process will be completed soon).