Tuesday 9 December was International Anti-Corruption Day, and Libera Bruxelles (Free Brussels) wanted to celebrate this initiative with an evening event open to all interested, under the name “International Anti-Corruption Day. Zero Corruption - 100% Development”. The event celebrated the first anniversary of Libera's opening in Brussels in December 2013.
Among the guests this evening were Don Luigi Ciotti, president and creator of Libera, who was visiting Brussels for a meeting at the European Parliament to finalize the presentation of the agenda of priorities for Europe against corruption and organized crime.
The long struggle against organized crime
After a brief presentation by one of the members of Libera on the association's work and scope, Don Ciotti underlined the importance and necessity of joint action to defeat organized crime. “The first time I spoke about the problem at Brussels institutions,” he explained, “was twenty years ago during a meeting at the European Commission, at which I was given seven minutes to speak.” The speech ended with a proposal for the Commission to become aware of the problem of the mafia that was made into an action plan at the European level. At the time, 96% of the commissioners present in the room said that the problem was purely an Italian one, in that in other states, there was no way to report situations under the rubric of organized crime.
Today, we are twenty years into the future, and twenty years have been spent speaking and making continuous contributions in Brussels on the issues of illegality, corruption and money laundering, slowly, but always actively, bringing awareness to these issues. The European Union has in fact recognized there is no European nation where the problem of the mafia does not exist, particularly with the economic crisis, as large sums of money are laundered throughout Europe and it is important to be conscious of it and act to end it. The European Parliament, aware of the problem, has finally approved a directive on the confiscation of assets obtained through criminal activity; this directive represents an important step in the fight against the mafia, but much still remains to be done according to Don Ciotti.
United to defeat the mafia
The real problem is also the more bitter aspect of this whole story, continued Ciotti, which is that too many people see and hear things, but do nothing. People have been speaking for centuries about the Camorra, Ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra; already in 1877, for example, a journal of the Palermo dioceses contained an article denouncing the mafia's presence, calling out the guilty by name, all members of high society at the time. Likewise, in 1900, Don Luigi Sturzo described the mafia as a force “that grips in its tentacles justice, the police, the administration, politics” and that “has its feet in Sicily but also affects Rome, penetrates into ministerial cabinets, the corridors of Montecitorio, violates secrets, diverts documents, forces men of the utmost honesty into dishonourable and violent acts,” and at the same time prophesied that the phenomenon would not stop just at Rome, but also cross the Alps and end up spreading throughout Europe.
Now is the time to say enough to this phenomenon, and join together to become a political, cultural and social force fighting against the mafia. “Let's foster the great things coming out of them, let's identify them, let's support them and encourage them: it is us together who will win!” said Don Ciotti, referring to the cooperatives and associations created with the assets confiscated from the mafia, to the volonteers who choose to dedicate their holidays working these lands in order to spread a culture founded on legality and justice, and to all the numerous projects organized by Libera.
Combating corruption on a national and European level
After Don Ciotti's emotional speech, the meeting proceeded to a roundtable, whose theme was “The fight against corruption at a national and European level”, moderated by journalist Méabh Mc Mahon (France24). The roundtable started by presenting the Riparte il Futuro (Restart the Future) campaign sponsored by Libera and Gruppo Abele (the Abel Group), whose intention is to wage a non-partisan battle to combat organized crime and corruption with new methods. The campaign has been joined by many new parliamentarians elected across the political spectrum, and was recently recognized with the introduction at the European Parliament of an "Anti-corruption and organized crime" intergroup, an essential point in the agenda presented by Riparte il Futuro during the European elections. Riparte il Futuro points as well to the recognition of European Official day, on 21 March, to remember and commemorate the memory of victims who died at the hands of the mafia, because as Libera supporters reminded several times, without memory, there is no future. At the top of the list of priorities there is also the introduction of a European directive to protect Whistleblowers, those who report cases of corruption, and provide them assistance.
Just fighting against European corruption, it is in fact possible to bring about the expected results. It is important, however, as underlined by Olivier Hoedeman (Corporate Europe Observatory), to also realize and take the necessary measures against forms of legalized corruption that often come from lobbying. The European Union has made progress in the fight against corruption but, says Hoedeman, stronger laws are needed and should be implemented throughout Europe.
Concluding the roundtable was Gudrun Van de Walle, professor at the University of Ghent, who gave a more academic perspective on the problem, focusing mainly on organized crime in Belgium. One of the most significant aspects of the presentation was learning about the great similarities between Belgium and Italy on this issue, final proof that the mafia exists everywhere and that today more than ever, we have no excuse not to fight it.
The evening concluded pleasantly with a sampling of wine and food produced on lands confiscated from the mafia, serenaded by the GAM “Musical Action Groups .”