Corralling Corruption in the European Union

By Uwe Klapproth and Ann Longmore-Etheridge

The political and economic development of many countries is undermined by public and private sector corruption. The European Union currently includes some nations that are perceived as very corrupt and others that appear to be highly ethical. There are, however, a series of instruments and frameworks that can be adopted and instituted by European agencies and businesses to corral corruption.

Transparency International, a global coalition against corruption, is one group helping countries and businesses fight the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. The coalition publishes an annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI) Report that ranks countries according to the perception of corruption in the public sector. In the 2010 report, released late last year (the 2011 report will be released by year’s end), three-quarters of the 178 participating countries scored a five or lower on a scale where a 10 means “highly clean” of corruption and a zero is “highly corrupt."

Last year’s CPI scores of EU member states presented both good and bad news. On the one hand, some of the highest-scoring nations were EU members. Denmark scored 9.3, followed closely by Finland and Sweden at 9.2, and the Netherlands at 8.8. However, the EU also had low scorers Hungary (4.7), the Czech Republic (4.6), Latvia (4.3), Slovakia (4.3), Italy (3.9), Romania (3.7), Bulgaria (3.6), and Greece (3.5). EU nations with a perception of corruption that increased from the previous year included the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, and Hungary. (The United States is also among this group with an increased perception of corruption.)

The CPI report says that notable decliners of 2010 were some of the countries most affected by financial crises “precipitated by transparency and integrity deficits.” For example, Greece, where corruption is regarded as one of the major causes of a national debt crisis that is threatening the entire EU single-currency system. In 2009, Transparency International reported that Greek citizens paid more than €462 million ($636 million) under the table to civil servants for such things as quick turnaround on construction permits and driver’s licenses, admission to hospitals, and tax dodging. They also paid an estimated €325 million ($447 million) in bribes to the private sector. The amount of these bribes is believed to be rising.


Fraud is less likely when civil servants, managers, and trustees must act transparently and cannot hide their actions. The key is for those affected by administrative decisions, business transactions, or charitable work to be able to see not only the basic facts and figures associated with those actions but also the mechanisms and processes underlying them. 

But transparency is only one tool. Others are set out in the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), the only global, legally binding universal instrument that provides a framework for fighting corruption. UNCAC was born, in part, out of the recognition that there are links between “corruption and other forms of crime, in particular, organized crime and economic crime, including money laundering,” the preamble to the convention notes. UNCAC includes sections on prevention, criminalization, law enforcement matters, international cooperation, asset recovery, technical assistance, and information exchange. 

(To continue reading "Corralling Corruption in the EU," from our December 2011 issue, please click here)

photo by dimnikolov/flickr





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