Fighting Corruption is About Control, Not Eradication

By Bridget Premont, Political Officer at the U.S. Mission to the EU

Any good gardener will tell you that you’ll never be able to get rid of all your weeds and pests. But a steady effort to limit their effects can bring positive results.

State Department European Bureau’s Senior Anti-Corruption Coordinator George Kent and Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Anti-Crime Division Director Robert Leventhal speak at EED event in Brussels. Photo: USEU
EED anti-corruption event in Brussels. Photo: USEU

Last week, the State Department European Bureau’s Senior Anti-Corruption Coordinator George Kent and Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Anti-Crime Division Director Robert Leventhal came to Brussels for consultations with the European Commission. At a public event hosted by the U.S. Mission to the EU and the European Endowment for Democracy on March 25, they spoke alongside Valentina Rigamonti from Transparency International about how fighting corruption requires a long-term commitment.

U.S. Report on Federal Prosecution of Election Offences. Photo: U.S. Department of Justice
U.S. Report on the Prosecution of Election Offences. Photo: U.S. Department of Justice

Kent called corruption a cancer, noting that it erodes the quality of democratic governance and undermines economic prosperity. This matters to the United States not only at home— but also across the globe. Corruption contributes to regional instability and individual governments’ abilities to defend their own borders, such as we currently see in Ukraine.

The U.S. strategic vision for Europe, Kent said, remains “a continent whole, free, and at peace.” But this project remains unfinished, in no small part due to the instability caused by corruption. Ms. Rigamonti agreed that general corruption trends in Eastern and Southeastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are worryingly high at the moment. In response, the United States is working with the European Union and redoubling its policies to support rule of law and good governance.

George Kent: U.S. policies are not focused on eradicating corruption, but controlling it and limiting its effects. Photo: USEU
George Kent (left): U.S. policies are not focused on eradicating corruption, but controlling it and limiting its effects. Photo: USEU

Kent emphasized that all human beings have the capacity to commit corrupt acts. As a result, U.S. policies are not focused on eradicating corruption, but controlling it and limiting its effects. Kent said many countries have codes of conduct or anti-corruption legislation already in place, but some governments choose to ignore them. One of the most effective ways to counter this is to empower civil society and support media freedom so citizens can hold governments to account for their actions. Transparency, he said, leads to accountability. Fighting petty corruption can lead to transparent changes at the local level that citizens will appreciate, since this affects their daily lives.

Leventhal discussed ways the United States is working toward broader anti-corruption goals in global multilateral fora, including by pushing for transparency of political finance; development of peer review mechanisms; implementation of the OECD Convention on Anti-Bribery; legislative reform; open data rules; and membership in the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). The U.S. is also trying to lead by example. Kent noted that the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, set up in the wake of the Watergate scandal, has successfully prosecuted more than 25,000 U.S. elected and appointed officials. The U.S.’s experience with its Foreign Corruption Practices Act can also be useful for other countries seeking to crack down on illegal payments to government officials.

The fight against corruption—just like the fight against this spring’s hardy perennial weeds—has never been more relevant in Europe.

Videos from European Endowment for Democracy Anti-Corruption Event:

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