Some readers often tell us they believe the EU is “corrupt”. On the other hand, others say they trust the EU much more than their own national government. Still others believe that corruption runs through all levels of European politics, from the local to the EU level.
It’s difficult to know whether these concerns are overblown. Corruption is by its very nature conducted in secret, so reliable data is difficult to come by. Nevertheless, a 2014 report by the European Commission suggested that the extent of corruption in Europe was “breathtaking” and was costing the EU at least 120 billion euros each year.
Opinion polls suggest that Europeans are very concerned about the extent of corruption, with one Eurobarometer survey suggesting that 76% of EU citizens 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.
We had a comment from Diaconu, who argued that “Corruption is the biggest problem in Europe; from Brussels, to national governments, to local authorities; the [problem of] corruption is huge!”
Is he right? To get a reaction, we put this question to Gianluca Esposito, Executive Secretary of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), an organisation established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to monitor States’ compliance with the organisation’s anti-corruption standards. What would he say to Diaconu? Just how big a problem is corruption in Europe?
We also had a comment from Christos, who suggested a two-fold strategy to tackle corruption: “a) Promote stability, peace, education, and economic growth, and b) Prevent the accumulation of too much power and money in one country, institution, group of people, profession, etc.”
Would that work? Or is transparency the most important ingredient? To get a reaction, we spoke to David Lewis, Executive Director of CorruptionWatch, a South African NGO that relies on the public to report corruption, so they can investigate and report on it. South Africa is currently enmeshed in a series of corruption scandals involving the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party. As somebody working to tackle serious corruption at all levels of government and politics, what would he say?
There are two or three really critical ingredients in the fight against corruption. Transparency is a facilitator; it should facilitate public participation – which is crucial, and is the model we employ. But if you want government to be accountable, then transparency on its own is not enough. You also need an active, demanding citizenry.
The other thing you need is robust law enforcement. It’s very demoralising to be complaining about corruption and pressurising governments to deal with corruption when it seems like there will be no consequences for perpetrators, and the risks for engaging in corruption will be minimal, because law enforcement themselves are either corrupted, or under-resourced, or whatever the case may be.
So, I think those are the main elements: public participation and effective law enforcement, both of which are supported by greater transparency.
What is the best way to fight corruption? How big a problem is corruption in Europe? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Barbara Friedman