On 16 September, EED and International IDEA – an intergovernmental organisation that supports democracy worldwide - organised a panel discussion "Money in Politics: Democracy, state-building and corruption in the Eastern Neighbourhood."
High level speakers included Yves Leterme, Secretary-General of International IDEA and former Belgian prime minister, Maciej Popowski, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission’s department for the neighbourhood and enlargement negotiations (DG NEAR), Hanna Hopko, Member of Parliament in Ukraine, and Maia Sandu, political activist and former Education Minister from Moldova.
The event centred around two key questions: What are the political obstacles to efficient and transparent economic governance in the Eastern Neighbourhood? And how can the EU support its partners to address corruption?
Moderator Anne Weyembergh from the Université Libre de Bruxelles kicked off the debate highlighting that corruption was a universal problem affecting all countries and poses fundamental challenges to democratic values.
Mr Leterme agreed, warning that in some countries “high corruption threatens the very credibility of the democratic system”. He outlined IDEA’s key principles for tackling corruption, including the need for clear regulations and their consistent application, as well as good reporting and evaluation.
“Countries that are corrupt have weak institutions”
Mr Popowski confirmed the strong engagement of the EU in the Eastern Partnership. While some progress has been made in Ukraine and Moldova, he acknowledged that substantial challenges like money laundering remain: “Our message is clear. Corruption is one of the main causes of instability and countries that are corrupt have weak institutions. That is why strict conditions and incentives to curb corruption, as well as institution building, are top priorities for our support packages,” he explained.
In Ukraine for example, transparency reforms were one of the key conditions for the recent visa liberalisation. All public officials now need to register their assets via an e-form. Mr Popowski also announced the EU’s support for the creation of new anti-corruption courts.
Ms Hopko (pictured above, third from left), a member of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, agreed on this point. Speaking from her own experience as an activist, she said: “It’s easy to fight against a regime – but it’s much harder to build a state.”
While a number of reforms to increase transparency have though been put in place e.g. e-registration of assets, modernised police force, new laws on public broadcasting, state funding for political parties, she recognised that progress has been hampered by the war in Eastern Ukraine and consequent security preoccupations. Ms Hopko also criticised Western politicians and other elites for sharing platforms with oligarchs or acting as advisors.
Ms Sandu, leader of the Moldovan Party of Action and Solidarity, admitted that the negative international image of Moldova is a true reflection of reality. In recent years, the political elite has robbed citizens through bank fraud and corruption. As self-declared ‘pro-European’ politicians, this has led to huge mistrust among Moldovan citizens towards parties and politicians.
With her new anti-corruption party, she is trying to do things differently, for example, by building closer contact to ordinary citizens through crowdfunding. In stark contrast to other parties, Sandu also sticks to the rules governing party financing. Her party reports weekly on abuses committed by other parties, but she says that the state turns a blind eye: “Enforcement of the regulations is the most important issue, but this is very difficult with weak institutions.”
She also criticised double-standards on party financing, pointing to the example of the Moldovan diaspora which is banned from making contributions, while a civil servant donating an amount higher than his annual salary goes unreported (a commonplace method of party financing for oligarchs via a front man).
She concluded by reaffirming her determination to achieve success with legal means: “It’s not about winning. It’s about proving that legally and transparently financed parties can succeed.”