Saturday, December 3, 2022
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< view full issue: The corruption that does not cess
David Bornstein

​Punishing corruption

Journalist. La vie des idées

Interviewed by William Bourdon.

Commissions and experts in deontology multiply without actually doing anything about corruption. With the deepening in the European Union, the problem has become massive and widespread. According to the lawyer William Bourdon, it is crucial for democracy to apply more dissuasive sanctions, to penalize behaviours that pervert political institutions and public affairs.


William Bourdon is a lawyer of the Paris Bar Association and founder of the Sherpa association, which aims to "defend victims of crimes committed by economic operators".

What is the teaching of the great revolts that led Arab countries to break the chains of despotism? Corruption is a cancer for the rule of law and development. In the context of development, corruption is a greater source of impoverishment in poor countries than it is in rich countries. However, it remains a poison to which the Republic can become immune to at any moment. It is in the first place a factor of private appropriation of public affairs. It radically aggravates the loss of confidence, already historically serious in France and in Europe, between the general public and those in charge of embodying the public good and the general interest. It impels its perpetrators to violate the separation of powers. Because when someone corrupts or takes advantage of their function to enrich themselves, they only have one obsession: to organize their impunity. Necessarily, this would make Montesquieu spin in his grave. Judges are despised and avoided (...) 

Corruption in all its forms is an extreme danger for democracy and, in the end, aggravates the problems of social cohesion, which is an absolutely indispensable brew of solidarity and national unity.


To deal with this cancer, we have to look at Europe. We should not forget the need to prevent conflicts of interest and to legislate at national level, but at European level it is becoming increasingly serious. Why? In principle, because decision-making impacts increasingly on the lives of 300 million people. There is a generation of "lobbyists" who have understood this. They have invested in Brussels and are aware that we have to try to slow down, complicate, hinder any public decision-making process on financial regulation, criminal law or the environment. There are no preventive control mechanisms appropriate and proportional to the importance of the public decisions adopted in Brussels. People are victims of conflicts of interest, which is subject to controversy and rumours in the corridors of the European institutions. However, this is not enough. Someday this great question of the fight against corruption at European level will have to be opened up.

An example: the European agency responsible for participating in the quite complicated process of authorizing access to the market for medicines. It is known that people close to pharmaceutical groups work in this agency. If there is no obligation to declare, with its consequent risk of penal sanction, for those who participate in public decision-making processes related to the market for medicines in Europe, it is left free to pharmaceutical laboratories that have developed their capacity to influence the most transcendental public decisions, which are then raised on a planetary scale. We need that European citizens become aware of this. 

There are no requirements, backed up with criminal sanctions, for those involved in the public decision-making process on the marketing of medicines in Europe.

In any case, the new rules that have been implemented in France are a small step forward, overly cautious and timid compared to what our democracy actually demands. At National Assembly level, deontologists, beyond their good intentions, have clearly insufficient means. Recommendations and controls are made on paper, the institution is sympathetic, but mediated and ineffective. It has to be given the opportunity to intervene in court and promote research. However, even if it is endowed with more powers, it will not be enough. Deontologists and the anti-corruption procedures exist in all the CAC 40 companies, but it does not avoid scandals happening. These control institutions can even serve to make fraudulent behaviours chronic.


Above all, the effectiveness of the measures depends on the elected civil servants themselves. At the moment, there is no real obligation to declare. They fill out their statements freely, including more or less what their conscience dictates, without real controls, or risk of criminal sanctions. The essential point is the possibility of being able to say what is wanted the electorate of the whole planet wants. You can tell them "declare if you have an interest in this or that company, and what your assets are. Given that lying and duplicity pay, there will always be people who are not necessarily great thieves, who only play the game half-heartedly, although their acts will have serious consequences for the public in the future, particularly as regards citizens' loss of confidence in the public affairs.

Strong and dissuasive criminal sanctions are necessary.

There is a report, largely unnoticed, that explains that the environment at European level is not dissuasive because large polluting industries have incorporated into their financial strategies the cost that might result from the fines to which they could be sentenced. The same thing happens with the elected officials. The sanctions has to be made to be truly dissuasive so that there can be real control over them, in favour of truth, probity and integrity. This is to say, just what the general public expect.



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