23 Jul 2019   |   Network Updates   |   Update from University of Warwick
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University of Warwick: Can the EU develop a truly comprehensive anti-corruption policy?


A new book by Dr Andi Hoxhaj from the University of Warwick School of Law offers fresh insights into EU anti-corruption policy with a particular focus on the EU Anti-Corruption Report of 2014, and argues that recent changes in approach may put the EU’s achievements in this area at risk by viewing corruption purely as an economic problem.

The EU Anti-Corruption Report: A reflexive governance approach presents an in-depth study of successes and failures in the evolution of a European-wide anti-corruption programme and analyses the development of anti-corruption as a policy field in the European Union.

Drawing on extensive research, Dr Hoxhaj explores the origins of anti-corruption policy in the 1990s, a time when the EU started to recognise corruption as a serious crime with a cross-border dimension; the development and adoption of anti-corruption reporting mechanisms that not only monitored but were able to actively involve all member and candidate states; and the impact of the decision to abandon the EU Anti-Corruption Report and fold anti-corruption measures into the European Semester process from 2018.

He argues that the EU has the potential to become an anti-corruption champion, but needs to address the implementation gap between anti-corruption law and practice, and to recognise the role that civil society and non-state actors can have in achieving better enforcement and in changing norms against corrupt practices.

The book also discusses the implications Brexit might have for the UK’s efforts to fight corruption, and the risks the UK may now face in this regard.

Commenting on his findings, Dr Hoxhaj said: “The fight against corruption took on greater prominence as the post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe states prepared their membership bids. Indeed, a commitment to fight corruption became an explicit condition for their accession as full members. In a bold initiative, the EU developed its own mechanisms to monitor and enforce this, leading to the publication of the EU Anti-Corruption Report in 2014.

“The new EU anti-corruption policy under the European Semester is not a suitable substitute for the EU Anti-Corruption Report due to its narrow scope.

“However, the European Semester process and the EU does have the potential to develop a truly comprehensive anti-corruption policy. My book offers suggestions on how EU anti-corruption policy could be strengthened and improved in the future”.

Among his key findings, Dr Hoxhaj suggests:

  1. The regulatory nature of the EU Anti-Corruption Report is different to previous EU anti-corruption approaches, which were based on a mixture of soft and hard law mechanisms in influencing the candidate and member states’ anti-corruption laws and policies. The Report, on the other hand, displays clear signs of reflexivity, and demonstrates a transformation of EU policy approach from the new governance to a reflexive governance approach. This is because it was consciously designed to support and strengthen member states’ own anti-corruption efforts.

  2. The European Semester process is not an adequate substitution for the EU Anti-Corruption Report due to its narrow scope. Corruption is treated only as an element that contributes towards poor economic governance and the shadow economy; no social dimension is considered, and in the 2018 European Semester there were no recommendations issued which encompassed the political sphere of corruption. Additionally, in the 2018 European Semester’s country-specific reports, only a quarter of the member states received recommendations addressing anti-corruption shortcomings, compared to the Report’s comprehensive reporting and recommendations for all member states.

  3. The accession phase of Romania represented a challenge for the EU, but also an opportunity to develop further EU policy against corruption, such as the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism—which provided the basis for developing the EU Anti-Corruption Report for all member states. The successes and shortcomings of the EU’s approach in Romania have allowed for reflection and policy discussion on how the EU can be more effective in influencing anti-corruption in the current candidate countries in the Western Balkans, and the book analyses the case of Albania.

  4. The EU is hampered by limited and contested competence in the field of anti-corruption. However, a concerted fight against corruption can rebuild trust in the EU project, and the EU has the potential to become an anti-corruption champion. In member and candidate states, there remains a significant implementation gap between anti-corruption law and practice, but the EU has not fully recognised the role that civil society and non-state actors can have in achieving better enforcement, as well as changing norms against corruption practices.

  5. After the Brexit vote took place in June 2016, there were some initial concerns that the UK might reorient its policy priorities away from anti-corruption measures. However, in 2017, the UK introduced the Criminal Finances Act 2017, the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds Regulations 2017, and there are future plans to launch a public beneficial ownership register. These measures suggest that even after leaving the EU, the UK will continue aligning its regulations to the same standards as those adopted by the EU, and international standards. It remains to be seen whether the UK’s fight against corruption will be set back or maintained after Brexit. What is encouraging is that the UK has a strong and vibrant civil society, including robust NGOs like TI–UK and Global Witness, who have played a critical part in the UK governments’ past anti-corruption initiatives.

 Dr Hoxhaj added: “My research offers a new interpretation of the EU anti-corruption policy as a form of reflexive governance that operates at multiple levels and involves not only European institutions and national governments, but also civil society actors in the process of developing anti-corruption policy.

“Furthermore, I apply the theory of reflexive governance in analysing the impact of the EU Anti-Corruption Report findings and recommendations for all member states, and their efforts to include the involvement of non-state actors in anti-corruption policy making.

“It is my view that the regulatory method adopted in the Report constituted a new reflexive governance approach that is of relevance for governing policies in the EU beyond tackling corruption.”

The book is expected to appeal to scholars of socio-legal studies with interests in law, policy, corruption, rule of law, culture, European neighbourhood and enlargement policy.

This communication was first published 22 July 2019 by University of Warwick.

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