Thessaloniki (Brussels Morning) The Transparency International’s (TI) latest Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) is a massive survey of 40,000 participants on perception of corruption in Europe, the largest of its kind in the EU.
What do EU citizens think about corruption?
The TI report suggests that 62 per cent of Europeans believe that government corruption is a major challenge in their country, as corrupt officials are rarely charged. That surges to 80 or even 92% in Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia.
32% of those surveyed believe that corruption has surged over the last year, whereas 44% believes it stayed the same. Remarkably, 65% of Cypriots perceive a surge of corruption followed by 51% in Slovenia, 41% in Croatia, and 40% of respondents in Hungary and Portugal.
Revolving doors of money & power
People in the EU increasingly scrutinise the cosy relationship between business and government. Leaders of governments and legislators are perceived as leading corruption trends in half the 27 EU member states, whereas business executives and bankers lead the corruption-perception index in others. Relevant to the perception of corruption is the widespread belief that the relationship between corporations and governments is too close for comfort: 2/3 of people in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic and Slovenia think that businesses control their governments.
Survey data suggests that corruption shakes the level of trust in institutions. This is particularly reflected for national governments, which have seen their support erode among 48% of EU citizens. It appears that 56% of public opinion puts more trust in European Union institutions.
How are citizens affected by corruption?
In terms of accessing basic services, such as health care and education, the GCB survey shows that the need to cultivate and rely on personal networks is widespread. Bribery is common in a few EU countries; Romania and Bulgaria maintain the highest rate of bribery with 20% and 19% of citizens admitting to resorting to gifts for services. The lowest rate of bribery (1%) is in Denmark, Finland and Sweden.
Bribery is not, though, the only type of corruption that citizens experience. Favouritism is rife when it comes to the allocation of welfare benefits or securing access to public hospitals and schools. The fact that less than transparent rules determine access to public hospitals (29%) and welfare benefits (23%) amidst a pandemic suggests that health is a hotspot of corruption amidst a pandemic. Such discriminatory practices affect one in three EU citizens (33%). That is equivalent to more than 106 million people across the EU.
The Global Corruption Barometer also highlights data on ‘sextortion’, i.e. “the abuse of power to obtain a sexual benefit or advantage,” which often occurs in exchange for public services, like healthcare or education. GCB results document the highest rates of this power relationship in Bulgaria (17%), Croatia, Romania, and Greece.
How many EU citizens feel, though, that they can report abuses without fear for retaliation? The answer is that 47% of EU citizens feel they can safely report corruption, whereas 45% fear reprisals. This is one of the major challenges that should be addressed, as the public’s opinion on corruption reflects stagnant, stale, and institutionalised favouritism in the EU.
Wrapping up this bleak overall picture on corruption levels, let’s focus on the good news: 64% of the EU’s citizens still believe that it’s everyone’s task to make a difference in the battle against corruption.