FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Politics of EU Corruption

It has become one of those curious organisations: sanctimonious yet delinquent; aspiring and failing. Riddled with ordinances, directives and suggestions about the rule of law, the European Union has found itself in another round of financial bother. Money speaks, and money has spoken rather loudly through the European Commission – to the tune of €120 billion.

The EU Anti-Corruption Report1, authored by the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament is filled with bureaucratic stodge (“Eurobarometer surveys” on perceptions of corruption, to take one example) and themes. It was clear, claimed EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, that Europe lacked “corruption-free” zones.

In what is an at times painful read, the report suggests in contorted fashion that “Member States can be characterised in different ways” in terms of experiences over who gets bribed or who doesn’t. That is when the report gets interesting. Perceptions and prejudices, in various measures, combine to create a landscape of stringency, or laxness. “Answers confirm a positive perception and low experience of bribery in the case of Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden.” In those countries, the expectation that a bribe had to be paid lay at less than 1 percent.

Perceptions, rather than hardboiled data, can prove precarious. Even the report’s discussion about the UK figures suggests how 5 out of 1115 were expected to pay a bribe, while “perception data show that 64 percent of UK respondents think corruption is widespread in the country (the EU average is 74 percent).” One can have perceptions of bad health and still be as fit as a fiddle.

A high number of respondents registered experiences of bribery, but “with a clear concentration on a limited number of sectors”. These included Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. “In these countries, one sector, namely healthcare, provides the bulk of instances of bribery.”

Countries like Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Italy again find themselves grappling with issues of perception: experiences of bribery were rare (1-3 percent) but the sense that everything was going to the dogs was rampant. In the longwinded words of the report, “the perception is so heavily influenced by recent political scandals and the financial and economic crisis that this is reflected in the respondents’ negative impression about the corruption situation overall”.

The gold standard of corruption, where perception and experience of it meet, included Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. “In these countries, between 6 percent and 29 percent of respondents indicated that they were asked or expected to pay a bribe in the past 12 months, while 84 percent and up to 99 percent think that corruption is widespread in their country.”

The usual formula to such findings is one of well-coloured indignation. The conservative magazine, The Spectator (Dec 3, 2013) thought that European corruption, be it by index or country, was all rather straightforward: the EU is corrupt because southern Europe is corrupt. Even the anti-corruption report should refute that suggestion, given that Lithuania and the Czech Republic are hardly Bulgaria or Greece.

But that poor grasp of geography did not deter speculation on the part of the magazine’s Ed West, who seemed more obsessed with his own perceptions about clubs and appropriate membership. The short of it: those poorer states are simply not up to scratch and should stay out of the EU. “I don’t object to Romanian and Bulgarian EU citizens being able to come to Britain as such, I object to the very idea of these countries joining the polity of which I am a member.” Well it is you might like some people, but you just would not want to share the same bed or bank accounts with them. After all, “corruption levels are a reflection of public morality.”

There is always the usual hectoring tone that accompanies matters of money. The thrifty will always be the ones lecturing those who should know better, thinking that one household’s finances should accord with those of another’s. The industrialised states have simply developed different forms of corruption, ways of checking the rot, and redistributing it elsewhere.

Take the UK, who received a considerable ticking off in the report regarding donations to political parties and electoral campaign spending. While corruption is endemic across the EU, particular countries just do it in a different way. Perception indices tend to be futile, because the expectations of how things are done vary. Besides, the greater the number of rotten apples in a barrel, the greater the likelihood the fresh ones are at fault.

Having a clear, European-wide approach to this is distinctly challenging. The report’s discussion on liability of elected officials is one such illustration. “A fundamental challenge regarding anti-corruption policies is the lack of a harmonised definition of ‘public official’ at EU level which would include elected officials.” Indeed – for in an environment where public officials dabble with private ventures, “corruption” is bound to happen.

The problem with such conduct is that it makes a smooth running, united Europe an even harder sell. Corruption is all relative – and the European Commission itself can hardly be spared the scrutiny and scolding that it has given the EU states. The distance between the gravy train on the one hand, and the EU citizen on the other, was vast to begin with. It now seems like a gaping chasm.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail