Today’s guest post is from Valentina Lana, a lawyer and lecturer at Sciences Po, and Michel Sapin, who served in multiple senior positions in the French government, including as Minister of Finance from 2014-2017 and Minister of the Economy in 2016-2017, and who was the principal author of the Loi Sapin II, the French anticorruption law.
Since the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention entered into force back in 1999, France has been a member, and as such France committed to adopt and enforce an effective legal framework to detect, punish, and deter transnational bribery. Yet in October 2012, when the OECD’s Working Group on Bribery released its Phase 3 report on France’s compliance with its obligations under the Convention, France received very poor marks. The report emphasized the Working Group’s “serious concern” about the paucity of enforcement proceedings addressing foreign bribery by French entities, expressed its disappointment in France’s failure to address key legal obstacles to holding companies liable for foreign bribery, and the insufficient penalties. In short, while France had laws on the books that supposedly criminalized foreign bribery, in practice France was doing very little to make those laws meaningful in practice.
The highly critical Phase 3 report served as a wake-up call for French policymakers. But it was not only this very public and embarrassing OECD criticism that prompted France to act. French companies that issued securities in the United States also found themselves targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice for alleged violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Many French firms and government officials bristled at what seemed like the intrusive and extraterritorial prosecutions by the U.S. government. But in high-level conversations between leading figures from the two countries, the U.S. representatives made clear their position that they were pursuing these cases, even though France might seem to have a greater interest, because France couldn’t or wouldn’t prosecute foreign bribery cases involving French companies vigorously and effectively. “We are doing your job,” was the basic position of the U.S. representatives.
There was also pressure for reform from the French business community. This at first seems counterintuitive, given that companies are generally reluctant to accept more stringent regulations. But business operators in France perceived that France needed to promote a more transparent, corruption-averse environment, in order to increase the attractiveness of France for investors and shake off France’s bad reputation as an unfair business environment where bribes would count more than skills, experience, and competence. Though one might think that French firms would care only about domestic corruption, in fact many business leaders embraced the idea that taking a stronger stand against foreign bribery—and embracing legal reforms that would elevate France to the level of countries like the US or the UK, at the forefront of the fight against transnational corruption—would help improve France’s reputation and overall business environment.
These factors contributed to an environment that enabled reformers, particularly those in the French Ministry of the Economy, to act. In 2016, the French parliament adopted a crucial set of reforms contained in a law known as the la loi Sapin II (the Sapin II Act). This broad law covers more than just the fight against corruption; it contains a range of provisions intended to improve France’s attractiveness to local and foreign investors through greater transparency and modernization of economic life. But several of the Act’s most important reforms were motivated by, and targeted toward—the fight against corruption, including transnational corruption, a fact acknowledged symbolically by the date of the Act’s adoption: December 9th, UN International Anti-Corruption Day.
Among the Sapin II Act’s key measures, three can be considered as essential to driving France’s progress on anticorruption: Continue reading