Report says corruption could weaken Europe
POLITICAL AND business corruption in Europe, especially in the Mediterranean, could further weaken vulnerable economies struggling to overcome the euro crisis, according to an international watchdog.
While it sees itself as one of the world’s least corrupt regions, few countries in Europe regulate lobbying or give citizens easy access to public information, allowing a culture of graft to take hold and political and business elites to divert funds, Transparency International said in a report.
Bloated budget deficits and debt are at the heart of the euro zone’s 2½-year-long crisis, while corruption means scarce public money is spent inefficiently and may be creamed off at a time when record unemployment is reducing government revenues.
“Countries with weak anticorruption safeguards are often the ones with most problems in their public debt at the moment,” said Finn Heinrich, research director at Transparency International, who supervised the report across 25 countries.
“Audit institutions are particularly weak and often not independent from the government, meaning that public officials probably know they can get away with cutting corners,” he added.
The report names Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain – the euro zone’s most financially troubled nations – as having deeply rooted problems in their public administration, namely that officials are not accountable for their actions.
Although not technically illegal behaviour, politicians and business leaders use their influence to win contracts and sway policies, while parliaments often fail to enforce the anti-graft laws and rules that exist, the report says.
“The links between corruption and the ongoing financial and fiscal crisis in these countries can no longer be ignored.”
Corruption costs the European Union about €120 billion a year, according to the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe. Many analysts say the figure is probably higher.
Privatisations are fertile ground for creaming off funds into private hands and Transparency International says Portuguese and Greek privatisation programmes could be at risk, potentially leaving less money to pay down debt and deficits.
The perception that governments are too close to business elites added to the public anger that brought thousands of people on to the streets in Madrid and Athens in recent months.
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was dogged by scandal. He faced a bribery case in Milan in February, although it was thrown out by the court and he denies any wrongdoing.
Corruption is notoriously difficult to measure, but 74 per cent of Europeans see it as a growing problem in their countries, according to the EU’s latest Eurobarometer survey.
The European Commission has described corruption as a “disease that destroys a country from within”.