How Corrupt Is Europe?

By Boateng, Osei | New African, August-September 2012 | Go to article overview

How Corrupt Is Europe?


Boateng, Osei, New African


For many in Europe, corruption is assumed to exist only in other countries, particularly in places such as Africa. But recent surveys have shown that corruption is a "major problem" in Europe, and there is a strong correlation between corruption and the ongoing financial crisis in the Euro Zone. For Africa, the lessons are writ large: corruption has to be fought or, sooner or later, nations will suffer dire consequences. Osei Boateng reports.

FOR AFRICANS WHO SUFFER "widespread corruption" by their governments, business-people, political leaders, and sundry officials, something happened in Europe in June that holds a lot of lessons for the continent. On 6 June, Transparency International (TI), the global anti-corruption NGO based in Berlin, Germany, published a comprehensive pan-European corruption report (done in conjunction with the Directorate-General Home Affairs of the European Commission) about the state of corruption in 25 member-states of the EU. It was titled "Money, politics, power--Corruption risks in Europe".

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Launched at the European Parliament, the report concluded that though corruption was a "major problem" across Europe, the countries currently undergoing financial crisis in the Euro Zone--Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (the so-called "PIGS")--were among the most corrupt countries in Europe, and sadly they have done little in the past to combat it.

"The ongoing financial crisis", the TI report said, "has brought into stark relief the price of complacency about corruption in Europe. While caused by a confluence of factors that differ from country to country, the failure to put in place adequate measures to prevent, detect, and sanction against legal and illegal forms of corruption are among [the most important causes of the financial crisis]."

The report went on: "Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain top the list of the Western European countries found to have serious deficits in their integrity systems. Research also suggests a strong correlation between corruption and fiscal deficits, even in so-called 'rich' countries. Those countries that perform worst on global indicators measuring the 'control of corruption' also run the highest budget deficits.

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"The national assessments of these countries provide ample evidence of systemic problems and failure to implement anti-corruption safeguards that may have contributed to the economic problems in Europe."

Lessons for Africa

For Africa where corruption has become endemic in most countries, there is a hard lesson to be learned. And it is this: there is a high price to pay for failing to combat corruption--as shown in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. No matter how strong a nation's economic and political foundations, corruption, or the failure to fight it, can bring dire consequences.

According to TI's report, it is not only traditional forms of corruption, such as bribery, that are linked to poor macroeconomic outcomes. In the context of the ongoing Euro Zone financial crisis, weak oversight and ineffective regulations are linked to what may be called "legal corruption" which goes beyond bribery.

Legal corruption, according to TI, includes influence peddling, for example, the excessive and undue influence of lobbyists in the corridors of power in Europe, a trend which is promoted through opaque lobbying rules and the existence of revolving doors between the public and private sectors.

A "revolving door" is defined as post-employment for parliamentarians, members of the Executive, and senior public officials who leave or retire from the public sector and take employment in the private sector.

According to TI, post-employment restrictions are important for regulating conflicts of interest. But across Europe, the "revolving door" is not properly regulated, thus allowing retiring MPs, ministers and senior civil servants to use their former public office connections to unfairly and unethically leverage insider networks and knowledge for personal financial gain and also for the private companies they work for after leaving office. …

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