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GRECO: past, present & future

Strasbourg , 

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Ministers, ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you here today to mark 20 successful years for the Group of States against Corruption.

Over the past two decades, GRECO has published 600 reports and countless recommendations to the benefit of its 49 member states and the more than one billion people who live in them.

But it is not just the volume of GRECO’s work that has placed it so firmly in the constellation of international justice.

Rather, it is the impact that work has had on preventing and combatting corruption in its many guises.

Over the past twenty years, it has become possible for companies to be criminally liable;

Special investigative techniques have become widespread in corruption investigations;

Political financing is regulated more tightly and transparently;

Senior politicians have lost immunity from prosecution in corruption cases;

And ethical standards for politicians are not only debated, but regulated too.

GRECO has been central to all of this.

But today it operates in a fast-changing environment.

There are three new and specific challenges to the fight against corruption.

First, its very nature has evolved.

The exchange of cash or gold is giving way to more subtle means:

Offers of favours, services or jobs, food and drink, hospitality and gifts, and so on.

Second, the level of public tolerance for corrupt practice among politicians has declined steeply, perhaps in reaction to the impact of the recent economic crisis and the impact on living standards and social divisions.

And third, there is a heightened understanding that corruption can spread quickly, pervading all state sectors, and thus threatening our democratic institutions.

In this context, GRECO’s current work is focused on ensuring the all-round integrity of the public sector: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary too.

There are still too many examples of dubious political financing casting shadows over election results;

Of a trade in favours or other unethical behaviour within government;

And of judiciaries being undermined by an executive that threatens to fire prosecutors who come too close to investigating political corruption.

We are rightly troubled by the persistence of these problems.

But we are fortunate to live in a time where people are more aware, less tolerant, and better empowered to pursue them, thanks in part to GRECO’s work.

And we should be clear that no institution is immune to the threat of corruption.

Recent allegations about the behaviour of a small number of politicians in our own Parliamentary Assembly is a case in point.

I am glad that I asked for an independent investigation, that its findings were public, and that its recommendations were clear.

I am also grateful to GRECO for its recommendations to the Assembly on this matter.

We must do everything to ensure transparency and shine a light into every corner.

That is why I also urge all Council of Europe bodies to make the most of GRECO expertise and implement or draw from its recommendations when reforming their own structures and ethical codes.

This is about setting an example in the knowledge that prevention is better than cure.

And, in turn, it is also about maintaining public trust in our institutions, which is vital and hard won, but all too easily lost.

But I have heard it said however that GRECO has become “political”.

What this really means is that it is now more relevant and visible than ever before.

After all, there is a whole range of tools at its disposal:

Ad hoc, regular and compliance evaluations; information requests; and reports that not only feature in national and European debate –

But which can also be found at the core of legal actions within the European Union.

It is therefore of little surprise that GRECO’s media and social media footprint is deeper than ever too.

But we should not be afraid of this profile.

Debates can lead to positive reform.

Yes, GRECO reports may sometimes make uncomfortable reading for any given government.

But their recommendations are a safeguard for the rule of law that must be implemented, not set aside, by member states.

That is not political; it is the rule of law, and it is in everyone’s ultimate interests to abide by it.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is easy to forget that international action against corruption is itself just twenty years old – and that while much has been achieved, a lot remains to be done.

Until now, GRECO has in the main part restricted itself to highlighting shortcomings, helping countries to identify where their problems lie.

People in this room, and beyond it, will shape the approach for the next twenty years too.

What will GRECO look like then?

This remains to be seen.

But I hope that we might move beyond the “what” to the “how”:

Explaining to national authorities the ways in which they can remedy the shortcomings that GRECO has identified.

Already, our rules allow the provision of expertise on request.

So I encourage member states to make greater use of this opportunity and to ensure that GRECO has the resources required to do this in addition to its evaluation work.

Lastly, it is important to recognise that GRECO does not operate, and will not grow, in isolation.

The increased demand for our input at the G20 is an indication of our greater reach.

And I am glad to see the way in which our body co-operates with the three other international, treaty-based, anti-corruption monitoring bodies: the Organisation of American States, the OECD and the UN.

Each of these has grown from a vision of international justice, based on multilateral action.

In a world where corruption remains, but evolves, that vision will be critical to fighting this insidious form of crime as we advance further into the twenty first century.

So let us celebrate what GRECO has achieved and aim higher still.

I wish GRECO a happy anniversary and, to you, a successful conference.