Public ethics is at the heart of democracy and good governance, at all level of government. This is why, in the past few years, it has become a priority for the European Committee on Democracy and Governance (CDDG).
In 2019, the CDDG drafted the Guidelines on public ethics, which were adopted by the Ministers’ Deputies on 11 March 2020. The Guidelines are innovative and ambitious, bringing together in one, single, consolidated text standards and recommendations previously set out in a wide range of Council of Europe documents.
Based on the awareness that the requirements and expectations of citizens in relation to public ethics are legitimate, more pronounced than in the past and relevant to all officials holding public responsibilities, the Guidelines help Council of Europe member States to establish a comprehensive and effective public ethics framework and to promote a public ethics culture in public organisations.
The Guidelines are far-reaching: they cover all categories of public officials, be they elected, appointed or employed; in addition, they take stock of recent Council of Europe work on emerging issues, such as whistle-blower protection, the prevention of sexism, hate speech and the use of social media by public officials, to mention a few.
Guide ‘Practical Steps to Implementing Public Ethics in Public Organisations’
The Guidelines are complemented by the Guide ‘Practical Steps to Implementing Public Ethics in Public Organisations’. This is a living document intended for practitioners, which provides case studies and examples from Council of Europe member States and which is updated on a regular basis by the European Committee on Democracy and Governance (CDDG).
Tools of the Centre of Expertise for Good Governance
Over the years, the Centre of Expertise for Good Governance has developed practical tools to help local authorities strengthen public ethics. The European Label for Government Excellence (ELoGE) and the Public Ethics Benchmark (PEB) are amongst them. The Centre of Expertise is currently working on a new toolkit and benchmark on public ethics for central authorities.
‘Ethical conduct’ is one of the 12 Principles of Good Democratic Governance, which were approved by the Conference of European Ministers responsible for local and regional government in Valencia (2007) and endorsed by the Committee of Ministers (2008). While the Principles refer to the local level, they are of general relevance and application. Principle 6 describes ethical conduct as follows: ‘The public good is placed before individual interests. There are effective measures to prevent and combat all forms of corruption. Conflicts of interest are declared in a timely manner and persons involved must abstain from taking part in relevant decisions’