The EU Commission fails to draw the right conclusions about corruption

Press conference by Cecilia Malmström, Member of the European Commission, on the conclusions of the first ever EU Anti-Corruption Report. (EC Audiovisual Services, 3.2.2014).

Press conference by Cecilia Malmström, Member of the European Commission, on the conclusions of the first ever EU Anti-Corruption Report. (EC Audiovisual Services, 3.2.2014).

Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs presented yesterday the first EU Anti-Corruption Report. The Commission estimates that corruption costs €120 billion a year to the European economy. This could be a very low approximation of reality though, because the vast majority of EU citizens believe that among politicians at national, regional, local and EU levels, in the public institutions and services even in the business world, corruption runs high. Let’s dig a bit deeper into it.

The relevant Eurobarometer survey shows that, “three quarters (76%) of Europeans think that corruption is widespread and more than half (56%) think that the level of corruption in their country has increased over the past three years”. This is a really devastating finding, and the Commission rather understates the importance and the consequences this Eurobarometer survey. On the average 26% of EU citizens say that their daily life is badly affected by corruption, with Spaniards and Greeks most affected by this plague, at a percentage reaching 63%. Even 65% of the Germans believe that high corruption cases are not adequately prosecuted in their country.

Perception of corruption

However it seems that there is a large difference between the general perception of corruption by EU citizens and their personal experience of it. This can be seen also in the results of the Eurobarometer survey. As mentioned above, three-quarters of Europeans think that corruption is widespread and more than half state that the level of corruption in their country has increased over the past three years. However only “one out of twelve of them (8%) say they have experienced or witnessed a case of corruption in the past year”. Let’s continue with perceptions, because if shared by the many they are equal to reality.

As expected, a survey about the public perception of corruption is related to the function of the entire public sector along with all government levels. Consequently all questions of this survey revolve around the beliefs and experiences of citizens in relation to authorities and public services. The general conclusion that can be easily drawn from this survey is that Europeans have a very negative opinion about politicians at every level. Starting from what is closer to them, they think that regional and local government may be just a bit less prone to corruption than the central authorities. “Eight in ten Europeans (80%) agree that corruption exists in the national public institutions in their country… Around three-quarters (77%) agree that it is present in their local or regional public institutions”.

The countries where “respondents are most likely to agree that corruption is present within the local or regional public institutions in Greece (95%), Italy (92%), Spain, Croatia (both 91%), the Czech Republic (89%) and Slovenia (87%)”. It’s not only the southern and the ex-communist countries where citizens believe that regional and local public institutions are corrupt. Surprisingly enough even the vast majority of the Germans and the Swedes (69% in each country) believe that there is corruption in their regional and local authorities.

No direct questions about legislators

While the Eurobarometer survey contains detailed and direct questions about regional and local public institutions and consequently the elected representatives who run them, there is no detailed and direct questioning about national legislators. There is only an indirect examination of what the citizens think about national parties and parliamentary deputies, despite the fact that 80% “agree that corruption exists in the national public institutions in their country”.

The negative opinion about national institutions is not restricted to the south or the ex-communist countries. Around 74% of the Germans and 76% of the French “totally agree that there is corruption in the national public institutions in our country”. Of course for the Greeks and the Spaniards this percentage reaches the unbelievable highs of 97% and 95%. Yet this is not direct question about what people think about political parties and legislators.

Political parties and deputies

Now about the political parties the questions are indirect. Citizens are not directly asked about what they think in relation to possible corruption there, but rather about what they think over the way the political parties are financed. In any case only one in five Europeans “(22%) thinks that the financing of political parties is sufficiently transparent and supervised, and only one in twenty (5%) totally agree” with this allegation. More than 68% tend to disagree or totally disagree with the proposal that “there is enough transparency and supervision of the financing of the political parties in our country”.

As for the issue of credibility of the main political arena in every country this is again tackled only indirectly through questions about the relations between politics and business. The response though that the citizens delivered to those questions are quite deafening. When asked “if corruption is part of their national business culture”, and if this has to be “attributed to the close links between business and politics, eight out of ten Europeans (81%) agree that “too-close links between business and politics in their country lead to corruption”.

More conclusions

Obviously this doesn’t necessarily mean that 81% of the Europeans believe that their national legislators are plainly corrupted. However at this point, this writer is tempted to think, that the Brussels politicians, who agreed to finance this Eurobarometer survey demanded, that no questions be asked which may lead to straight forward answers, entailing that the politicians are outright sold to the business lobbies.

In any case the truth remains that 81% of the EU citizens responded that the close ties between politics and business lead to corruption. Is it true though, that an equal percentage means also that such close ties do exist today? Who knows? It’s like solving an equation about who is corrupted and who isn’t.

Again the south and ex-communist countries like Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovakia and Spain appear the most prone to be plagued by close ties between politics and business. Those citizens respond positively to such a question in percentages ranging from 90% to 85%. Surprisingly enough though the French, the German, the British and the Dutch believe exactly the same thing about their politicians, with percentages ranging from 82% to 77%.

There is no question then that all the European citizens alike, probably with small differences between them, do believe that there exist strong ties, like gravity forces, binding together the political and the business constellations. Unfortunately Commissioner Malmström failed to arrive at this conclusion, the average European in the street would have easily drawn.


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