Fighting graft no simple task ALL - 2010/3/17
As candidate countries struggle to root out corruption, they must also deal with conflicting advice.
Analysis by Boyko Todorov for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 17/03/10
Anti-corruption measures are a prerequisite for EU membership. [Getty Images]
Anti-corruption remains a top priority on the EU enlargement agenda as candidate member countries are monitored against Union standards.
The demands are clear -- the judiciary and public administration must provide effective services. Accountability and transparency are a must. On the supply side, the EU provides specific assistance in anti-corruption efforts.
EU member states with chronic corruption problems such as Bulgaria and Romania are also monitored to track progress, and an annual comprehensive EU report is due in July.
"Every brave policy necessitates strong measures and strong solutions," said Wilfried Martens, president of the European People's Party (EPP), during his visit to Bulgaria on Tuesday (March 16th) in support of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's attempts to combat entrenched corruption and organised crime.
However, Bulgaria and Romania's experience indicates that leveraging membership to reduce or eliminate corruption is neither simple nor straightforward. Part of the challenge is that in the pre-accession period -- when countries receive support from a number of foreign sources -- advice on how to battle corruption often differs.
The EU tends to consider corruption a matter of criminal justice and harmonised legislation. The topic is addressed under the "justice and home affairs" portfolio, which also covers judicial issues, organised crime and other law-and-order problems.
Bilateral and multilateral donors, however, regard corruption as a developmental challenge. The Canadian International Development Agency, for example, in its Balkans strategy, stresses that "corruption continues to interfere with sustainable economic development."
The Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency associates corruption with the core development issues that "affect the poorest the most and can make poverty worse in many ways".
Regional players, like the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund, assist the anti-corruption efforts within its "Linking Citizens with Government" programme, as a means to promote civil society and democracy.
The distinction in treating corruption as either criminal or developmental has shaped both the type of assistance provided and the political pressure.
In the case of Bulgaria and Romania, the EU's criminal justice approach has frequently become stuck in its tracks.
It is the least harmonised area in EU law, so the European Commission (EC) had little to offer in terms of specific guidance. Moreover, corruption continues to be widespread among judicial and law enforcement institutions, and prosecution of high-stakes political corruption cases have proved exceptionally difficult.
Widespread graft among elected officials is more indicative of a deficient democratic process rather than ineffective law enforcement, critics say.
The EU's strong anti-corruption stance has encouraged bipartisan consensus on the need for reforms, pressured governments into commitments they would not have undertaken and mainstreamed the issue into the public debate. However, it also made progress both a goal and a deliverable with a number of drawbacks.
One is over-reliance on the executive branch. When treated as a deliverable by the government, the presupposed anti-corruption breakthroughs hinge mostly on the exercise of political will, and thus often oversimplify the problem.
While assistance agencies had their own anti-corruption targets, they were not aligned with the political conditions set before the countries. They treated corruption as a matter of inadequacy of social and economic institutions rather than deviant behavior subject to prosecution.
However, the agencies were more flexible in their choice of beneficiaries and partners, and had a greater capacity to engage local stakeholders. Such flexibility allowed them to address the social, cultural and economic roots of corruption.
Experts say the two approaches are not necessarily exclusive but need to be aligned in the priorities of both donors and national governments.
According to Ruslan Stefanov, programme director at Bulgaria's Centre for the Study of Democracy, "an effective anti-corruption strategy should seek a balance between the strict enforcement of criminal laws against bribery and the introduction of incentives to attract individuals and companies into the legal economy."
"The momentum triggered by a targeted law enforcement effort can only be sustained in the long term by nourishing the developmental roots of good governance," Stefanov concludes.