Corruption: who’s holding the EU accountable?

If we are to rely on Transparency International’s (TI) corruption score, the EU member states tend to have lower corruption scores than those seeking to join the Club.  Based on this, TI published the following press release:

TI is deeply concerned about the high levels of corruption in all EU candidate and potential candidate countries, in particular Macedonia (FYROM), which has EU candidacy status. None of the countries have substantially improved their anti-corruption record. The overarching critical perception displayed in the broad decline of 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index scores among several EU countries are indicative of a need to continue anti-corruption reforms, even after EU membership.

That’s all well and good, but what about the corruption and fraud within the European Union?  The TI didn’t have a press release on that issue, but another think-tank did.

The Open Europe (OE) released its own report focused on various institutions of the European Union, and while the OE is unambiguously euroskeptic, I don’t see why its criticism (if it is supported with evidence showing fraud) should be dismissed based merely on its ideological commitment.

The Daily Mail reports:

The breakdown of the misuse of money by the European Commission and EU agencies was produced by the Open Europe think-tank.  It came on the eve of publication of the verdict on their accounts by the European Court of Auditors, which acts as accountants to the EU. The court has refused to sign off the books for 13 years because of suspicions of widespread fraud and mismanagement.

The auditors are expected to refuse to endorse the accounts again today.

Much of the doubt surrounds the two huge subsidy programmes run from Brussels. One is the Common Agricultural Policy, which pays farmers £40billion a year to produce, and sometimes not to produce, food.  The other is the £35billion Structural Funds system, which is designed to boost local economies.

I wonder when the European Commission will suspend funds to itself for failing to meet basic accountability standards, as it did to Bulgaria earlier in the year?

Sending a message: the EU enlargement

After the 2007 accession of Bulgaria and Romania, the European Union appears to be more demanding in what its prospective members need to do prior to joining the club.  The reason for this change was noted by The Economist earlier in the year:

Now that they’re in the club, new European Union members are failing to deliver on the promises they made to fight corruption.

Once past the entrance door, incentives to reform tend to drop sharply.  So in addition to issuing evaluation reports on prospective members, the EU is even willing to challenge how these are interpreted spinned by local politicians.  Let’s take Albania as an example (via Hurriyet):

Two days after the EU said in a report that Albania had made limited advances, the EU ambassadors also said holding free and fair general elections in 2009 would be vital for Albania’s wish to move toward joining the 27-member bloc.  “Corruption is described as a particularly serious problem for Albania. Fighting corruption, especially in the judiciary but also elsewhere, remains a key European Partnership issue,” the EU envoys said in a statement issued by the French embassy…

The envoys issued their statement after the government said the report was full of praise for its work, while the opposition saw it as the worst ever assessment from Brussels.  Prime Minister Sali Berisha was greeted in rural Albania on Thursday by musicians in traditional costume who sang that “corruption was breathing its last” thanks to his efforts.

Polish political establishment

Check out Leopolis’ analysis of the political scene in Poland in response to two op-eds from Central European Digest:

These points miss fundamental changes in the Polish political establishment in the past decade and in the past year.

1) The Polish diaspora in the U.S. weighs very little influence today as it did in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of the Polish diaspora is not in Chicago, but works in the UK and Ireland. The vast majority of them, who grew up after communism, are sympathetic of the U.S. but cannot relate to Reaganism. Tusk’s admiration for Reagan hardly equals support for U.S. policies at a time when Poland is rapidly moving closer to the EU as a member of the Schengen area and looking to join the eurozone.

2) President Kaczyński’s policies toward Russia may have scored points with the “mohair berets” at home in 2005, but ultimately failed in the EU and abroad. Initiatives such as the “energy NATO,” historical recognition over Katyń, “meat wars,” and Germanophobia not only isolated Warsaw from Eurocrats in Brussels, but earned Poland zero leverage vis-a-vis a resurgent Russia.

Terrorism in Russia and the update on “Faina”

Two things.

First, Russia may be witnessing a return of increased terrorist incidents.  The latest having occurred today in North Ossetia.

An explosion hit a minibus unloading passengers in the capital of Russia’s North Ossetia province Thursday, and officials said 11 people were killed in what they called a terrorist attack…Passengers were getting off the bus near the entrance to the central market in Vladikavkaz when the blast went off, Russia’s Investigative Committee said on its Web site.

It’s too early to tell for certain whether this is a new upward trend.  The only other incident to my knowledge was in early October when the Russian authorities blamed Georgian forces for exploding a bomb near Russian military personel.  Regardless, for North Ossetians who suffered through the tragedy of Beslan, any terrorist attack must be terrifying.

We’ll have to keep an eye on this in the near future, but so is Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committe according to which at least 35 terrorist attacks in Russia have been prevented since the start of this year.

And half-way around down the world, MV Faina is still held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia.  Although allegedly, some progress is being made:

Talks between the owner of the Faina vessel and the pirates are effectively going on, and there are reasons to believe that they will be completed within a few days, says a press release of the ship owner, published by the Morskoy Bulletin-Sovfracht journal on Thursday…

The Faina vessel was captured by Somalian pirates on September 25. It has on board 33 T-72 tanks and other armaments, which are intended, according to various versions, for Kenya or South Sudan. The crew is made up of 17 Ukrainians, two Russians and a Latvian national. Another Russian – skipper Vladimir Kolobkov – died of a heart attack soon after the capture of the Faina by the pirates.

Our next president

Barack Obama, president-elect

Barack Obama, president-elect

[UPDATE]: Washington Post editorial;  see also voter turnout as well as Truth and Myths about the 2008 Election part I (deals with the reasons for Obama’s victory) & part II (deals with the Bradley Effect Non-Effect) via The Monkey Cage.  Also, Patriot’s Quill writes about the 10 reasons why Republicans deserved to lose (h/t Treacherous Truths).

Image credit:  Barack Obama (flickr); license:  cc-by-nc-sa

Strained relations – 11 reasons why Russia and Ukraine fight

Flag of RussiaFlag of Ukraine

Understanding the relationship between Russia and Ukraine is no easy task. Knowing the history and culture is just a prerequisite to begin to discern the tensions observed today between governments in Moscow and Kyiv. It helps being a newsjunkie and being able to speak aside from English the other two languages involved – Russian and Ukrainian. In that case, Taras Kuzio is uniquely placed.

Writing in a recent issue of the Eurasia Daily Monitor (EDM), published by The Jamestown Foundation, Kuzio – in an article titled Russian-Ukrainian Relations Reveal Deeper Problems – outlines 11 areas that bedevil Ukrainian-Russian relations which show “a close interconnection between domestic and international affairs.”

Below five of the reasons mentioned by Kuzio are examined, with a full list available on EDM’s site:

Energy. Currently an intermediary buys natural gas from Russia and resells it to Ukraine. Tymoshenko has pushed for direct trade with Russia, but the latest Yushchenko-Putin agreement esssentially preserved the middle-man status quo with cosmetic changes. Finally, it’s not so much the increased prices, but how these were implemented that aggravated the relationship.

Ukraine has absorbed Russian gas price increases from $50 to $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters over the last four years with a threat to double this price in 2009…The energy sector continues to be very corrupt, and this factor reduces the ability of Ukraine’s elites to act in unison toward Moscow….

Sheltering accused criminals. Ukrainians wanted by law-enforcement authorities are hiding in Russia. An analogous situation exists between the U.K. and Russia regarding the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi sought by the British police on suspicion of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Russia’s refusal to cooperate with Scotland Yard at the time brought the relations between Moscow and London to a new low.

High-level officials accused of abuse of office (Igor Bakaj, Ruslan Bodelan) or involvement in Yushchenko’s poisoning (Volodymyr Satsiuk) continue to remain in exile in Russia. Russia has a long record of harboring fugitives sought by countries such as Georgia.

New Corruption Czar in Medvedev’s administration

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s third post-Soviet president after Yeltsin and Putin, will soon appoint a new presidential aide to fight corruption. Following his inauguration speech promise to crackdown against corruption, President Medvedev is scheduled to sign a decree creating the new post in late June reports RIA Novosti.

Kremlin sources said Medvedev was likely to appoint 52-year-old Major General of the Judiciary Igor Tsokolov, head of the organized economic crime department at the Interior Ministry’s investigative committee…Technically speaking, the new presidential aide will focus on corruption plaguing the massive Russian administrative machine. However, analysts said he would primarily facilitate a personnel reshuffle in the Federal Security Service (FSB), Interior Ministry and the Federal Drugs Control Service (FSKN).

What remains to be seen is to what extent Tsokolov’s position will be about re-centering the power balance in Russia around Kremlin (rather than the White House – the new home to now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin) vs. actually combating corruption. Either way, Russia’s corrupt chinovniki better watch out. In the end, it will not matter whether they were fired for being corrupt or because of the turf fight between the Kremlin and the White House.

Bulgaria acts against corruption

Acting on a report by KPMG, an international auditing firm, Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Plugchieva suspended the country’s fund responsible for infrastructure development. Plugchieva will create a new agency under her direct supervision.

This is good news for the EU taxpayers who no doubt want to get the most for their “transfer” money to one of the newest EU members. A cynic however may wonder whether this newly discovered anti-corruption spirit in Sofia will last after the publication in July of the European Commission’s monitoring report. Read the AP’s full story – Bulgaria stops EU funded projects due to spending irregularities.

Bulgaria’s government on Wednesday halted 10 major European Union-sponsored infrastructure projects worth €88.4 million (US$136.96 million) after an independent audit found severe irregularities in spending. The projects concern mainly trans-boundary road construction and repair works in southern Bulgaria, near the border with Greece. The funds are provided under the EU’s Phare program and are managed by local authorities