European taxpayers losing €120bn a year due to bribery and other forms of sleaze
Corruption in the 28 countries of the EU is costing European taxpayers about €120bn (£100bn) a year, or the equivalent of the union's annual budget, Brussels announced on Monday.
In its first attempt to gauge the scale of sleaze not in the EU apparatus but in the countries of Europe, the European commission found different levels applied in different countries, but that nowhere was clean.
"There are no corruption-free zones in Europe," said Cecilia Malmstrom, the commissioner for home affairs. "We are not doing enough. That's true for all member states."
The 41-page commission report as well as two opinion polls showed that more than half of people (56%) thought corruption was growing in recent years in their countries while three out of four saw sleaze as widespread.
The report was purely advisory and analytical. Corruption prevention and prosecution for criminal cases are the remit of national governments.
"We do not propose any sanctions at all. Or laws," said Malmstrom.While generally praising efforts to combat corruption across Europe, the report complained: "Declared intentions are still too distant from concrete results. Genuine political will to eradicate corruption often appears to be missing."
Britain appeared relatively clean among its EU peers. Only five out of 1,115 people questioned in Britain expected to have to pay a bribe. Nonetheless, two out of three Britons thought corruption was rife in the country.
"In the United Kingdom, petty corruption does not appear to pose a challenge," the report said. "Moreover, the UK has made strides in encouraging its companies to refrain from bribing officials abroad, through stringent legislation and detailed guidelines. Traditionally, the UK promotes high ethical standards of public service."
The report singled out the UK as among the countries with the strongest anti-bribery rules in the world. But it also called for a bigger crackdown on UK firms bribing their way into contracts abroad.
The commission has, though, called for caps on election campaign spending and on political party donations in the UK.The report devoted large tracts to highlighting what the commission itself was doing to counter corruption, although it has minimal powers.
Scandinavia, Britain and Luxembourg emerged as the most bribery-free zones in the EU, whereas southern Europe – Greece, Italy and Spain – and parts of eastern Europe were found to be the most vulnerable.
About one in 12 Europeans (8%) said they had experienced or witnessed a case of corruption in the past 12 months. The report focused on political sleaze, on malpractice in business and on corruption in public procurement, which takes up a fifth of the EU gross domestic product, and was especially dirty, according to the report, with up to half the cost of public contracts being due to corruption.
But the overall report declined to name names and was generally vague in its findings.
"Vote-buying and other forms of undue influence of the electorate were also noted in a number of member states," it said, without supplying details.
Almost half of companies across the EU felt corruption was a problem for doing business. The building and telecoms sectors were singled out as especially prone.
Health services, building and urban development are sectors where corruption vulnerabilities are usually high across the EU, the report said.
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