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Corruption remains at concerning levels in some European countries. NHRIs in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia and Slovenia report a high level of public perception of corruption. Such perceptions concern in most cases politicians and, to a lesser extent, the judiciary. Corruption perceptions are also said to be exacerbated by how the authorities dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. The NHRI in Spain, for example, indicates that concerns regarding corruption arose due to emergency contracting in urgent procedures during the pandemic, while the NHRI in Greece raised concerns regarding the lack of transparency and the frequent use of expedited legislative procedures during the pandemic. In some countries, corruption concerns are linked to practices that span beyond the pandemic context, such as, in Albania, the increased use of private-public partnerships, or, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, an underdeveloped law enforcement framework.

In some of the country reports, ENNHRI members highlighted gaps to be tackled in order to improve the anticorruption framework, such as the lack of a corruption prevention body independent from the government in Finland, or the weak supervision of financing of political parties in Estonia.

At the same time, a number of NHRIs across the region point to new legal acts and mechanisms strengthening the national regulatory framework to combat corruption. This is the case in Albania, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Portugal and Slovakia – although some ENNHRI member, such as in Slovakia, acknowledge that there is still more to be done to successfully tackle high-level corruption. NHRIs from EU countries including Cyprus, Denmark, Latvia and Slovakia also report on the adoption or entry into force of new legal acts and establishment or initial functioning of special bodies to ensure protection of whistle blowers. At the same time, however, others report on gaps in whistle blowers protection. In Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland and Greece a delay in implementation of the EU Directive 2019/1937 on the protection of whistle blowers raises concerns, whereas ENNHRI members in Hungary and Luxembourg stress the need for authorities to fully implement the Directive. Similar concerns are expressed by ENNHRI member in Albania, while in Ireland ENNHRI member alerts about a general hostility towards whistle blowers which hinder their protection.

The contribution of NHRIs to the fight against corruption mostly concretises within the framework of whistle blowers protection. NHRIs in Hungary and Portugal were granted additional responsibilities in this area, while the NHRI in Moldova was recently appointed as designated body to protect whistle blowers. Various country reports, such as the ones on Latvia and Moldova, illustrated examples of how NHRIs are performing these functions.

While generally not bearing specific responsibilities in the fight against corruption, NHRIs are active in raising awareness about corruption and advocating for stronger anticorruption policies, also on the basis of their handling of complaints – as reported by ENNHRI members in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Moldova. In some countries, NHRIs’ role is more substantive, and translates into official recommendations to public authorities (such as the recommendations regarding emergency contracting in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on corruption practices published by the NHRI in Spain); or opinions on anticorruption laws and concrete cooperation with national anticorruption bodies and agencies, as reported in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nonetheless, the lack of NHRIs’ capacity to tackle corruption has been identified as a weakness of the anticorruption framework by some ENNHRI members, such as in Luxembourg.

Key recommendations

1. Revising and strengthening the legal framework to prevent and fight corruption, in particular high-level corruption and integrity issues, and better leverage in this context the advisory role of NHRIs;

2. Strengthening capacity of anti-corruption bodies and judicial authorities to investigate and prosecute corruption, and foster cooperation among them and between them and other independent actors, including – in accordance with their national mandates – NHRIs;

3. Improving whistle-blower protection frameworks and ensuring the implementation of relevant rules on the ground, including through consultation with NHRIs on possible relevant roles.