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The fight against corruption is not a political priority in France. It is high time it became one!

Transparence International France is releasing an unprecedented report on the fight against corruption in France. From Parliament to business and including the Executive, the Court of Audit, the media and civil society, 13 institutions have been examined with a fine-toothed comb to determine their role in the “National Integrity System”. Whereas the national audit institutions and electoral management bodies received high scores, Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary appear to be the weak links.

As the French component of a study being conducted simultaneously by 25 other chapters of Transparency International across Europe, the “National Integrity System” report analyzes existing anti-corruption mechanisms in France as well as their effectiveness. In all, 13 “pillars”, or institutions, have been evaluated based on their independence, their transparency, their integrity, and their contribution to the fight against corruption.

When these institutions function properly, together they make up a healthy and solid “National Integrity System”, capable of fighting effectively against the various forms of abuse of power, embezzlement, and misappropriation. Conversely, when these institutions lack a legal framework or adapted means of action, or if their leaders demonstrate no real commitment in this regard, corruption can thrive.

While it is true, with regard to international standards, that the French National Integrity System is generally satisfactory, it nonetheless shows signs of fragility: a weakening of the traditional channels of expression and political participation, a decline in social cohesiveness, and questioning of the State and its leaders.

At long last, making the fight against corruption a political priority

The involvement of French institutions in the fight against corruption is generally low. Symbolic ads aside, the subject is clearly not a political priority today.

The gold medal in transparency and integrity went to national audit institutions and electoral management bodies, followed closely by the Public sector and civil society. With the notable exception of the Judiciary, French institutions generally have adequate resources and the necessary independence to carry out their missions. As for governance, progress must be made above all in reinforcing the transparency of these institutions’ actions, especially as concerns political parties and Parliament. These last two, along with anti-corruption agencies, law enforcement, and the Executive, received the lowest scores.

The report also demonstrates that even if laws exist, they are not necessarily adequately enforced. Most of the pillars highlight a recurring gap between, one the one hand, a generally satisfactory legal or institutional framework, and on the other, practices or implementation that do not correspond. Likewise, bodies dedicated to the fight against corruption have powers of investigation and sanction that are far too limited to be effective. Proof of this lies in the numerous reports produced over the last decade, in particular by the SCPC, the CNCCFP and the CTFVP[1], all of which illustrate the scale of this gap, which legislators and sometimes jurisdictions have, via their decisions, contributed to widening.

In order for the fight against corruption to move forward, it is therefore essential to begin by better respecting pre-existing rules and providing concrete means to the institutions in charge of monitoring them. In so doing, French political players will demonstrate that the fight against corruption is – finally – a priority.

The French and their ambiguous relationship with corruption

While anti-corruption efforts in France are indeed insufficient, public actors aren’t the only ones to blame. In fact, numerous studies show that the French population has an ambivalent attitude toward favoritism and various forms of arrangements, and that they sometimes underestimate the harmful effects of corruption on the social pact.

The report’s main recommendations

TI France makes 12 priority recommendations:

  1. The political parties must finally make the fight against corruption a priority and thus go beyond the usual symbolic reforms that are spurred by scandals. Civil society, in broad terms, must take this necessary step to reestablish the confidence of citizens in their institutions.
  2. Raise French awareness on challenges and solutions in the fight against corruption by introducing the topic in civic education programs and by providing better visibility to the work of institutions such as the Central Service for Corruption Prevention (SCPC) or the National commission for campaign accounts and political financing (CNCCFP).
  3. Establish the publication of precise declarations of interest at all the levels of public decision-making (local and national elected officials, members of government, members of Ministry cabinets and civil servants with authority) and an obligation to abstain from participation in a public decision in the event of personal interest related to the question at hand.
  4. Monitor lobbying and ensure its transparency at all levels of public decision-making.
  5. Within the administration, guarantee the protection of whistle-blowers from any and all forms of retaliation.
  6. Citizen monitoring as well as citizen participation in the development of public decisions must be encouraged. This should take place in particular through the improvement of the French system of right of access to information.
  7. Establish monitoring of budget accounts.
  8. Require political parties to publish their accounts in full and provide the CNCCFP with investigative powers.
  9. Reform the status of the Prosecution in order to transform it into a real, independent judicial authority of the Executive, and provide the financial police with adequate means.
  10. Improve the fairness of the classification process by providing the Consultative commission of national defense secrets (CCSDN) with power of decision subject to appeal.
  11. Encourage the development of investigative journalism and ensure transparency in media shareholding.
  12. French companies must make public commitments in the fight against corruption and adopt best-practice-based prevention measures in this area.

Presidential candidates, get vaccinated!

To mark the publication of this report, TI France is launching a large vaccination campaign, against the viruses of corruption, aimed at the candidates for the presidential elections in 2012. As of today, 6 candidates have been vaccinated by making specific commitments in response to our proposals (including Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Nicolas Dupont-Aignant, Eva Joly, and Corinne Lepage). We are still waiting for the commitments of other declared or potential candidates, especially François Bayrou, François Hollande, and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Editor’s note:

The NIS country report addresses 13 “pillars” or institutions believed to make up the integrity system of the country. Each of these 13 institutions is assessed according to three dimensions that are essential to its ability to prevent corruption: first, its overall capacity in terms of resources and independence, which underlies any effective institutional performance; second, its internal governance regulations and practices, focusing on whether the institution is transparent, accountable and acts with integrity, all crucial elements to preventing the institution from engaging in corruption; and thirdly, the extent to which the institution fulfils its assigned role in the anti-corruption system, such as providing effective oversight of the government (for the legislature) or prosecuting corruption cases (for the law enforcement agencies). Together, these three dimensions cover the institution’s ability to act (capacity), its internal performance (governance) and its external performance (role) with regard to the task of fighting corruption.

Transparence International France is the French branch of Transparency International (TI), the leading the global civil society organization in the fight against corruption, brings people together in a powerful worldwide coalition to end the devastating impact of corruption on men, women and children around the world. TI’s mission is to create change towards a world free of corruption. /

[1] SCPC : Service central de prévention de la corruption (Central service for corruption prevention) ; CNCCFP : Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques (National commission for campaign accounts and political financing) ; CTFVP : Commission pour la transparence financière de la vie politique (Commission for financial transparency in political life).

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Myriam Savy / Daniel Lebègue
Transparence-International France
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