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Speech by Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, 31st GRECO Plenary, 6 December 2006

''Corruption undermines the very foundations of democracy''

Corruption is to democracy as flu is to a human being. We are all at risk, and there is no fool-proof protection. Its effects vary from temporary malfunction to lasting and even fatal damage.

Luckily, there are vaccines, and there can be no doubt that when it comes to prevention and treatment, GRECO has become a trademark of excellence which has set high standards for monitoring the anti-corruption efforts of the vast majority of the Council of Europe’s member states.

I note with great satisfaction that, since its inception in 1999, GRECO has been growing at a considerable pace and now comprises 43 members, since Austria joined at the beginning of this month.

I am also pleased to learn that the Russian Federation will become GRECO’s 44th member on 1 February 2007.

I very much hope that the remaining four member states outside the GRECO family, namely Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, and San Marino, will follow the Austrian and Russian examples.

This process of enlargement will no doubt contribute to strengthening the international anti-corruption movement in which the Council of Europe and GRECO, as its anti-corruption monitoring body, have played and continue to play a pioneering role.

In a time of budgetary austerity, sacrifices must be made. I appreciate that you have been especially careful and responsible when presenting me with your budgetary proposals for 2007, and I am very grateful to you.

In this respect, I am pleased to note that a significant part of your third evaluation round will be devoted to the funding of political parties. I expect this work to attract much public attention and to help to enhance even further GRECO’s visibility.
The choice of this burning issue will also underline GRECO’s capacity to act as a multidisciplinary body – and not only multidisciplinary but also intercontinental.

In this context, I congratulate you on your decision to grant observer status to the United Nations, represented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This UN body is strongly committed to promoting the ratification and implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption - in the elaboration of which the Council of Europe has played an active part. And we continue to support its implementation through GRECO and a variety of technical assistance projects.

In this global context, close cooperation between the Council of Europe and other international key players, such as the United Nations and the OECD, will be increasingly important in future in order to reinforce the effectiveness of our anti-corruption policies and avoid overlap and duplication.

Given the very nature of corruption, nobody knows exactly how much taxpayers’ money and corporate funds is skimmed off by this insidious practice. That said, estimates by the World Bank indicate that about 780 billion Euros are paid in bribes each year, and that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a lot of money.

The evidence gathered during GRECO’s on-site visits also shows that corruption is booming in many Council of Europe member states.

There is, therefore, no reason for complacency.

For the Council of Europe, corruption remains a serious threat to the functioning of democratic institutions and, ultimately, human and social rights which are at the very heart of the values of our Organisation.

When public officials, politicians or members of the judiciary engage in sleaze and blatant disrespect of the common good, the very foundations of democracy are at stake.

It is therefore a more than welcome development that society at large is becoming increasingly reluctant to accept graft or malpractice in public administration, or the abuse of position by elected representatives – and insists more and more on high standards of integrity and good governance, in both the public and the private sector.

It is also encouraging to see that impunity for abuses of official position is widely perceived to be unacceptable.

Bringing Ministers, Members of Parliament and high-level public officials to justice for illicit enrichment and other corrupt dealings as seen in some of our member states will strengthen the trust of citizens in democratic institutions and the rule of law. In this respect, initiatives to reduce the immunities enjoyed by certain categories of holders of public office and/or elected representatives, as recommended by GRECO on a number of occasions, are steps in the right direction.

Despite many successes in the anti-corruption movement, in which the Council of Europe will continue to play a determined role, it must never be forgotten that both in political life and in the economic sphere there are powerful factors prompting and encouraging corrupt practices, such as exposure to tough competition, positions which involve the exercise of considerable unchecked and uncontrolled power - sometimes compounded by a culture of silence and favouritism.

It is therefore essential for states to agree – and continue to agree – to submit themselves to the international scrutiny of their efforts to fight corruption and for them to act vigorously on the outcome of such scrutiny, as is expected from them in the GRECO process.

In other words keep tabs on your pulse, take your temperature regularly, and do not forget to get your shots.