EU Support in Countering Corruption in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) Countries

Dennis Blease

1 November 2016

During a recent European Security Defence College (ESDC) course in one of the EaP countries, I was privy to an animated discussion between senior members of the host nation military and some of the ESDC lecturers on the subject of countering corruption.  Our EaP colleagues were enthusiastically recounting the assistance that they had recently received from Transparency International (TI) and the UK through a bilateral programme. We all agreed that the TI have a proven track record in this field but this then led to a more general discussion about the support that could be provided by the EU in developing capacity in countering corruption.  Whilst none of the lecturers were EU officials, and thus could not necessarily be expected to be familiar with all aspects of EU support in this field, we did feel somewhat lacking in relevant knowledge.  The purpose of this blog is therefore to share with the EU-CIVCAP network what little our small group knew about EU support in countering corruption within the EaP and to ask for further enlightenment.  So please do add your comments at the end and I will attempt to consolidate and disseminate our shared knowledge.

Clearly much of the groundwork for assisting countries with countering corruption can be laid at the feet of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the 1990s.  Of particular note, however, was the formation of TI in 1993, when corruption was considered a taboo subject, and then the creation in 2011 of the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) based in Laxenburg, Austria. Both these organisations operate within the EaP countries but without any obvious coordination with the EU, as does NATO, which established its own Building Integrity (BI) Programme in 2007.

The EU and the Council of Europe created a body of laws and regulations in the mid-1990s in order to address the issue of corruption within Europe.  It was not until 2011 that the European Commission established an ‘EU Anti-Corruption Reporting Mechanism’ with the first report issued in 2014.  Primarily the EU was concerned at rooting out corruption within its own officials, as has been the TI EU office.  In recent years there has been a clear change in direction within the EU, however, with the recognition that funds allocated to non-EU members were as much at risk as that allocated internally.  For example, the EU support to SMEs in the Eastern Partnership countries (2014-2020)  specifically identifies corruption as a key challenge to economic support of partners.  Similarly, a 2015 report by TI on corruption in the EaP countries highlights the deficiencies in law enforcement.  As Anne Koch of TI suggests: “The system of checks and balances against corruption across these countries lacks oversight or accountability. Corrupt individuals – be they politicians or businesspersons – are often able to get away without worry of prosecution.”

This view certainly chimes with my experience in the Western Balkans.  As I wrote in a blog for ISSAT in 2011: “As part of the reforms of the justice sector in a country, the international community (such as the OSCE or the EU) and a country’s own parliamentarians might demand more rigorous and standardised application of the law by judges. To this end it would seem entirely reasonable that if a judge had more than 20% of his or her cases struck down by a higher level or Supreme Court, then his or her fitness for role could be brought into question, and the person could be removed. But this presupposes a level of impartiality at the higher-level court. If the judge at that level owed allegiance to the ruling party, he or she would be in a position to strike down cases by a lower level judge, not because the judgement in a case was particularly flawed, but because the lower-level judge was perhaps being politically troublesome to the ruling party.  If it was a Supreme Court judge that was striking down laws passed by the government, then a corrupt executive could use the country’s intelligence services to unearth some past misdeed, or bring indirect pressure to bear on the Supreme Court judge’s family.”

This brings us back to the original question of what support is available to the EaP countries.  In Ukraine the EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) has been particularly active in training specific groups of officials such as prosecutors and the anti-corruption bureau in their efforts.  The Danish Development Cooperation Agency (DANIDA) and the EUAM have also recently announced a €16 million project to support the fight again corruption in the country, which includes training.  Whilst much of this support will be geared towards improvements in the legal and institutional frameworks, there is much less clarity about capacity building and empowerment for individuals that would make corruption unacceptable across society: to the people, officials, and politicians alike.

It seems to me that there are three questions that emerge from the above discussion which might have relevance for EU-CIVCAP.  First, there are a number of actors beside the EU offering support in this field but no overarching tool for coordinating the individual efforts to the benefit of the host nation.  TI and NATO are particularly active in this field but, for example, does the EU coordinate its activities with either organisation?  Second, whilst Ukraine is receiving considerable support, is this matched by the support offered to the other EaP countries?  And, third, when corruption is endemic and ingrained in the political societal culture, it requires a change in mindset and behaviour at every level of society to achieve progress.  Are the EU programmes assisting the EaP countries actually addressing that type of fundamental behavioural change?

I fully accept that countering corruption is not necessarily open to Weberian solutions, so would welcome thoughts and views from others on this most difficult of subjects.

About the Author

Dennis Blease

Dennis Blease is a Senior Security & Justice Advisor and Director of DBA Security Sector Reform (SSR) Consultants Ltd.


One thought on “EU Support in Countering Corruption in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) Countries

  1. Dennis,

    Good Stuff!

    You are touching on one of the most challenging components of state building – tackling corruption. Your third question needs special attention; how to address the embedded, endemic, ingrained and corrosive nature of corruption that undermines good governance. Changing culture and behaviour does not happen overnight. Patience and persistence are needed. But we should not dismay. There are some encouraging examples of progress from Singapore to Rwanda; and from Georgia to Liberia. There are also some examples of countries, including South Africa, struggling to contain the fall-out from institutionalised corruption.

    I can spot a common factor in all of this; it is the personal value set of the top National Leader: President or Prime Minister. In my view a strong national ethical foundation based on national values can only be built from the top of a Country. If national leaders conducts themselves outside the Rule of Law, then it is only a few small steps before the military commander, the civil servant and the man in the street thinks he can do likewise – and get away with it. The national leader should be a role model for sound ethical behaviour for the common good, rather than an opportunist seeking aggrandisement and personal gain. For too long, in many post conflict countries, I have heard the same dismissive excuses….”this is the way of our country; we have always made a bit on the side. And a small percentage helps to oil the wheels of business”.

    The response by international partners to corruption should be one of zero tolerance, transparency, and preparedness to prevent further corruption by postponing development assistance until effective anti-corruption measures are in place. To do otherwise would be to compromise the Donor Community’s single most important Principle – Do No Harm.

    If you are still reading, I commend a new tool recently published by the International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) in Geneva.. It is their Top Tip Series which includes some pithy top tips relating to corruption. You can find it on the ISSAT website. Here is the web link:

    Regards, Gordon


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