Whenever corruption scandals break somewhere in Europe, it becomes obvious that there are cracks or even full-blown holes in the walls that are meant to protect the public interest against undue influences.
The size and nature of these cracks may differ between EU countries, but the first EU anti-corruption report launch by the European commission on 3 February 2014 has confirmed Transparency International's assessment that repairing and reconstruction is needed all across the EU.
A central conclusion is that corruption in the EU is less about petty bribes and more about the interface between public officials and the private sector, whether it is in the procurement of public contracts, in the financing of political parties or more broadly in areas where the link between the private and the public creates conflicts of interest.
Yet, the commission's report also created discussions about the issues it did not highlight. Important topics such as the regulation of lobbying, the protection of whistleblowers or the need to strengthen freedom of information are covered but are only rarely translated into recommendations to EU governments.
The transnational dimension of corruption, such as pointed out by recent defence procurement corruption cases linking Greece and Germany, Finland and Slovenia, was also not explicitly addressed in the report.
"A central conclusion is that corruption in the EU is less about petty bribes and more about the interface between public officials and the private sector"
However, what seemed most remarkable was the absence of an assessment of strengths and weaknesses within the EU institutions themselves. Each governmental organisation, including the EU institutions, should have some ability to self-assess their own fight against corruption and fraud, and so even the European ombudsman felt the need to point out the lack of an EU chapter publicly.
Such a chapter was initially foreseen for the report, but was eventually dropped. This is unfortunate because, in such a chapter, the commission would have realised that recommendations made to EU member states also apply to EU institutions.
A frequent request to national governments is to ensure independent and effective verification of asset and interest declarations of elected and appointed public officials.
However, declarations of interest of commissioners are not independently verified and declarations of MEPs only started to undergo plausibility checks, not verification, after NGOs had pointed out their poor quality.
The commission also asks member states to increase the transparency of campaign financing for political parties and candidates and to allow independent oversight of party finances.
In an EU chapter, it would have realised that its own proposal for new rules for EU-level political parties in 2012 lacked such an independent oversight mechanism.
This is one of the reasons why reform of the rules has been so delayed, and meaning the 2014 parliament elections will run under the old, inadequate rules.
Interestingly, the independent oversight mechanism has finally been agreed between the parliament and the council upon the request of national governments.
This shows that cracks in the walls of the European house need to be repaired, from basement to roof, and that the fight against corruption therefore needs to include all levels of government, from local, regional and national to supranational. The next EU anti-corruption report should also address the EU-level.
But we won't wait for the commission as we will publish the first ever independent assessment of the integrity of EU institutions in late spring 2014.