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Go clean to go green – how civic oversight in public contracting can help reach EU climate goals

Integrity Pacts can protect EU’s green investments; successful projects in Greece, Hungary and Slovenia show how

workers setting up solar pannels

Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

The European Union (EU) is getting serious in its fight against climate change. With the European Green Deal and its new budget, it plans to make the planet’s second-largest economy climate-neutral by 2050. To make the EU’s “man-on-the-moon moment” possible, the EU is allocating approximately €1 trillion over the next ten years.

The EU’s green funds will be spent on measures to foster clean energy and protect the continent’s biodiversity, but also on a major ‘renovation wave’ envisaged for the next decade. The plan is to invest in an infrastructure that is resilient to the devastating consequences of climate change – such as extreme floods – and that also further reduces the EU’s carbon footprint on the environment. This means adapting existing structures or building new, sustainable ones.

But construction projects are particularly vulnerable to corruption. These risks are further magnified in the case of climate or green projects due to additional technical complexities.

In such a high-risk environment, civic oversight can be a gamechanger – this is where Integrity Pacts come in.

Turn down the heat, turn up oversight

As roughly half of the €1 trillion for the EU’s green transition will come from its next seven-year budget, much of it will be invested through public contracting. As Transparency International’s chapters and civil society partners in the EU recently argued, these funds are at risk of abuse unless open, data-driven and participatory oversight mechanisms to protect public contracts are put in place.

Together with the European Commission, Transparency International has been piloting ‘Integrity Pacts’ – an approach to lower corruption risks in public contracting, including in infrastructure construction. The model was applied to 18 projects in 11 countries across the EU.

By opening up contracting processes to public scrutiny, from bidding to handover, Integrity Pacts have helped boost integrity in public procurement, including for climate-relevant projects.

Transparency International’s EU chapters and local partners ask EU leaders to consider embedding independent, real-time monitoring mechanisms for major public works projects through tools such as ‘Integrity Pacts’ in the next round of financing.

Read their joint statement

Flood-proofing Athens’ most vulnerable quarters

In Athens, for example, the building of new flood protection is being monitored through an Integrity Pact. Almost every winter, heavy rains lead to flooding, causing serious damages and at times claiming lives.

Now, protective pipelines are being constructed in the two municipalities that have been hit hardest by these floods, Aghios Ioannis Rentis-Nikaia and Tavros-Moschato. The 7km network will divert floodwater from these parts of town, protecting around 30,000 citizens. As their homes and lives are on the line, it is vital that the €12.5 million budget of the project is spent in their best interest.

The monitoring done by Transparency International Greece has already made significant contributions to this. Irregularities in official documents have been corrected to be in line with the country’s new public procurement law, and fair competition and equal participation of bidders in the contract award procedure has been enforced.

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Check out the video produced by the Region of Attica in Greece about this joint endeavour

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Protecting people, flora and fauna in Eastern Hungary

Positive changes in public procurement are also urgently needed in Hungary, where systemic corruption causes an estimated price inflation of 20 per cent in government contracts.

The local Integrity Pact, implemented by Transparency International Hungary, monitors the construction of a flood reservoir at the confluence of the Tisza and Túr rivers. The region in Eastern Hungary is historically flood-prone: overflows have caused large-scale evacuations and estimated damages of hundreds of millions of Euros over recent decades.

The new €89 million emergency reservoir that is being built will not only protect the approximately 130,000 people living in the region – it will also help nature conservation, revitalising water supply to the ecosystem and contributing to the protection of several endangered species. Transparency International Hungary has been monitoring the project since its start in 2016. Their recommendations that improve the bidding process through more competition have been implemented, while suggested anti-corruption trainings have been taken on-board by the Contracting Authority.

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Check out the new video from Transparency International Hungary to learn more about their project

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Reducing the carbon footprint of hospitals in Slovenia

Taking protective measures against the consequences of the climate crisis is only one aspect of climate action. Even more important is reducing carbon emissions to slow down global heating as far as possible. Slovenia's Ministry of Health started the renovation of the energy systems of two general hospitals in the cities of Trbovlje and Novo Mesto to reduce their consumption and impact.

In the past, hospitals in Slovenia have often been built with little oversight, and equipment costs were much higher than they should have been. This has made Transparency International Slovenia’s monitoring work particularly relevant: Despite the complexity of the project, it ensured access to information and up-to-date communication between all parties and the public. Many of their key recommendations have been taken on by authorities, some even beyond the scope of the project.

At the start of the project we were outsiders. You can imagine a couple of young activists in a conference room with ministry employees with decades of experience under their belts. I'm positive they saw absolutely no added value. Four years in and 80+ recommendations later, we can say that they accept us as partners on the project.
Sebastijan Peterka Project coordinator & researcher, Transparency International Slovenia

Transparency International Slovenia recently organised an online training for hospital staff on how to report suspected corruption. The efforts to safeguard public funds have also led to an improved relationship between civil society and public authorities, clearing the way for potential cooperation on anti-corruption in the future.

'World without Corruption' banner hangs over the Trbovlje hospital

'World without Corruption' banner hangs over the Trbovlje hospital

Photo: Transparency International Slovenia

Safeguarding public funds, for people and planet

We are at a crucial point in the fight against the climate crisis: if we want to have a chance to turn the tide, no time can be lost, no green investments be wasted.

On the EU’s way to net zero emission, the building sector is key – currently responsible for over a third of the EU’s emissions. As a labour-intensive sector widely dominated by local businesses, construction is also crucial for the EU’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which must go hand-in-hand with a green transition.

There is emerging evidence that Integrity Pacts help protect EU funds from corruption and fraud.
Delia Ferreira Rubio Chair, Transparency International

Public funds, be they for climate action or pandemic recovery, must be safeguarded against corruption, and it is crucial that appropriate monitoring and oversight measures are included in the next EU budget.

Integrity Pacts in Greece, Hungary and Slovenia are just three examples that show how civic oversight can improve public procurement – to the benefit of both the people and the planet.

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