Transparency International EU

Please present yourself

My name is Roland Papp, and I’ve been working with TI EU for two and a half years. I am senior policy officer on illicit financial flows, and my focus is on anti-money laundering, asset recovery and sanctions policies. I have been living in Brussels for over six years now. Previously I worked in the European Parliament with Members of the European Parliament, and I am originally from Budapest, Hungary.

What are your organization’s main goals?

We have three main pillars of our work and all of them focus on the European Union in a broader sense. The first, political integrity, focuses on improving the transparency, accountability and decision-making of EU institutions. The second pillar is financial crime and illicit financial flows, where we focus on curbing dirty money, especially by strengthening anti-money laundering and asset recovery rules across the EU. Our third pillar is about the EU becoming an anti-corruption champion, focused on the EU’s efforts to facilitate anti-corruption efforts of governments in Member States and non-EU countries, in particular by creating a space for meaningful engagement with civil society.

How does your organization operate?

We have an office in Brussels, with around 15 people. We work closely with Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin and with the 22 national chapters in EU Member States. We have a strong focus on the EU institutions here in Brussels, and we advocate for better EU-wide solutions, while following certain debates and processes across the EU. Of course, the EU does not operate in a void, so depending on the topic and specific projects, we also work with organisations (including, but not limited to Transparency International chapters) from Ukraine to the US or Latin America.

What are the biggest successes your organization has accomplished in the field of anti-corruption in the past years?

We are very proud of our Integrity Watch platform, which is a central hub for online tools that allow citizens, journalists and civil society to monitor the integrity of decisions made by politicians in the EU. For this purpose, data that is often scattered and difficult to access is collected, harmonized, and made easily available. It started as a small platform, but already covers a number of national platforms and a wide range of datasets from across the EU.

We have been working a lot on the EU’s new Anti-Money Laundering framework. A new directive and a regulation were agreed upon in early 2024, at which we worked to make sure that journalists and NGOs have access to crucial information about the beneficial owners of companies.

The European Commission is finally stepping up against Member States where the rule of law is threatened. There is now a Conditionality Mechanism in place, where specific measures are required to be fulfilled by Hungary and Poland before funds are given to them.

We are also very proud of a whistleblower directive, which created minimum standards across the EU to protect whistleblowers.

What are the key challenges specific to your local context that your organization has been facing?

Decisions at the European level are far too often based on geopolitical considerations, while Member State bargaining power undermines the strength of the EU as a whole. Vetoes and backroom horse-trading do not serve the interests of the public, which leaves us vulnerable.

The other big challenge is that however great European rules may be on paper, they are futile if Member States do not implement or enforce them in their national systems.

What can other organizations learn from you?

The EU and all the decision-making processes of the various institutions might seem hard to understand, and it might even seem impossible to know who decides when on what in Brussels. However, once you have that knowledge, it is possible for civil society organizations to advocate for change. Many of the stakeholders here are open for suggestions (as long as there is a political will for change, which in itself takes time and effort to create). Identifying allies is always a key to success in our work. In the EU there is no one governing majority: every final decision is made up of compromises of compromises. This also means that if you are good enough, you might be able create a majority to achieve a good decision, regardless of the country size.

To what extent has your organization been involved in the UNCAC Review Mechanism?

The EU itself is lagging behind in the review process, but we are now engaged with the European Commission and the peer reviewing partners in the ongoing process of reviewing some of the chapters.

What motivates you/inspires you to work in anti-corruption?

I really feel that we have systemic problems, and we need to act quickly. Dirty money and corruption are a threat to our democracies. When I grew up in a post-communist Hungary, everyone was very optimistic about a more democratic and better future, where Hungary can “return” to Europe. Unfortunately, now we know that the EU is not a guarantee for freedom, democracy, and prosperity. Democratic backsliding is a real threat, and no one is immune to this. We have to fight this if we believe in democracy.

What is an anti-corruption achievement you are proud of?

We have been involved in strengthening the EU’s anti-money laundering rules. While these are very complex and often technical rules, if they are not created properly at the European and international level, this will create huge problems.

What have you learned from your organization’s work in anti-corruption that could be useful to others?

Change does not come easily, but finding the best entry points and working consistently for years on the same goal can achieve a lot.

Why is it important for you to be part of the UNCAC Coalition?

The UNCAC Coalition provides a great framework for working together across organizations and countries. It is important to have global standards, and we can learn a lot from each other from what has been achieved by others: what worked and what the obstacles were in other contexts.