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  • Writer's pictureCaspar van der Winden

The EU's new legal front in the battle against corruption

A hand firmly refusing a stack of cash, symbolizing the rejection of bribery and the upholding of ethical standards.

On June 14th, 2024, the European Council has unified its legal stance against corruption through the adoption of a comprehensive new directive aimed at curbing corrupt practices across both the public and private sectors. This new directive represents a pivotal shift in the EU's approach to combating corruption, consolidating previous disparate laws into a single, robust framework.


Unified legal framework

The directive replaces the 2003 law on private sector corruption and the 1997 EU Convention on corruption involving officials. This amalgamation into a single directive simplifies the legal landscape, making it easier for member states to implement and enforce anti-corruption measures consistently. The revised directive also modifies the 2017 law concerning fraud and other crimes affecting the EU’s financial interests, broadening its scope to include a more extensive array of corrupt activities.


Comprehensive definition and penalization of corruption

A key feature of the new directive is the harmonized definition of corruption offences, which mandates that all EU countries criminalize the same acts of corruption in a uniform manner. Offences such as bribery, misappropriation, trading in influence, obstruction of justice, and illicit enrichment are now punishable under a unified legal framework. Penalties have been standardized, with natural persons facing imprisonment terms of two to four years depending on the gravity of the offence, and legal persons (companies) subject to fines amounting to at least 3% to 5%m of their global turnover or at least EUR 24 to 40 million.


Strengthening jurisdiction and cross-border cooperation

The directive extends jurisdictional reach, allowing member states to prosecute corruption committed abroad by their nationals or residents, thereby enhancing the EU's capability to tackle corruption internationally. This provision is crucial for handling crimes that transcend national boundaries, reflecting the global nature of corruption and the necessity for cross-jurisdictional legal mechanisms.


Preventive measures and public awareness

Beyond punitive measures, the directive emphasizes prevention. Member states are encouraged to engage in public awareness initiatives and to ensure transparency and accountability in their public administrations. The establishment or enhancement of dedicated anti-corruption bodies is mandated, with the directive calling for these bodies to operate autonomously and be well-resourced, both in terms of qualified personnel and financial capacity.


Legislative process and international alignment

Following the Council's adoption of this directive, negotiations will proceed with the European Parliament, which has already articulated its stance as of February 2024. The finalization of this directive will mark a significant advancement in the EU's legislative framework, aligning it more closely with international standards, particularly the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).


Conclusion

The European Union's new directive on corruption marks a significant stride towards creating a more transparent, accountable, and corruption-resistant Europe. By simplifying the legal framework, defining offences uniformly, and emphasizing both punitive and preventive measures, the EU aims to fortify its institutions against the pervasive threat of corruption, thereby enhancing public trust and economic stability across the continent.


This comprehensive legal initiative reflects an urgent collective response to the challenges posed by corruption, as echoed by recent surveys indicating pervasive corruption concerns among EU citizens and businesses.

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