By Dean Carroll
Citizen trust in governments and public bodies is desperately low because relationships between politicians and business leaders “take place in the dark”, according to campaign group Transparency International. Reacting to the European Commission’s first ever continent-wide anti-corruption report, which had identified serious shortcomings in the efforts of European Union member states, TI suggested that “no country gets a clean bill of health”.
Deputy managing director of Transparency International Miklos Marschall said: “Trust in Europe’s leaders is falling because relations between business and the public sector take place in the dark, leaving citizens with questions about whose interests are being taken care of. To bridge the gap between politics and people, there must be greater transparency in public life and more public officials held to account for their actions.”
Cross-border corruption was highlighted as a threat to the single market in the report assessing all 28 EU member states. It was estimated that corruption was costing the public purse at least €120bn a year. The document was first scheduled for publication in June of last year but has since been hit by one delay after another. It paints a bleak picture of public sector administration with potential conflicts of interest leading to possible systemic skullduggery in areas including the awarding of public contracts, bribery, parliamentary ethics and political party financing.
“We welcome this report as an important step in the EU’s collective effort to scale up its anti-corruption efforts,” said Marschall. “It is a stark warning against complacency about corruption in any EU country.”
In 2013, France, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Spain all experienced well-documented cases of high-level criminal allegations ranging from fraud and money-laundering to abuses of party finances. Sweden, however, was celebrated as the best performer in the report. But European Commisisoner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström admitted: “Corruption is a phenomenon which is difficult to tackle. At the same time, it is a problem we cannot afford to ignore. One in 12 Europeans has experienced or witnessed corruption in the last 12 months and four out of 10 European companies consider corruption to be an obstacle for doing business within the EU.
“The level of corruption varies from one member state to another. But the report also shows that corruption affects all EU member states. One thing is very clear: there is no corruption-free zone in Europe. We hope that the process we are starting today will spur the political will and the necessary commitment at all levels to address corruption more effectively across Europe. The price of not acting is simply too high.”
In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece between 6 per cent and 29 per cent of respondents surveyed by the commission said they had been asked for a bribe in the last 12 months. A large volume of bribes also occurred in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary – according to the official statistics.
Despite the discovery that maladministration was rife, the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF retained an annual budget of just €23.5m. Europol has estimated that 3,000 organised crime groups also have tentacles spreading across a number of areas – possibly even within public authorities. The BBC reported that Bulgaria, Romania and Italy were “particular hotspots for organised crime gangs in the EU but white-collar crimes like bribery and value added tax fraud plague many EU countries”.
Dean Carroll is editor of Policy Review. Follow him on Twitter @poljourno and follow Policy Review @Policyrev