A clean wind in Europe’s dirty corners

In four of the continent’s most corrupt countries, politics in favor of honest governance may have the upperhand.

Supporters of the opposition candidate for Hungary's prime minister, Peter Marki-Zay, attend a rally in Budapest Oct. 10.

 When a survey last month asked people in Europe if corruption had increased over the previous year, four countries ranked among the worst: Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Yet all four now have something else in common. In October, they each saw political stirrings for clean governance or rule of law.

The most dramatic shift was in Hungary, where democracy has been eroded by a populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Six opposition parties have united against him and on Oct. 17 chose a small-town mayor, Péter Márki-Zay, to run in the next election. He promises to uphold the values of the European Union and support efforts to prevent the theft of EU money in Hungary. Mr. Orbán’s party is now behind in the polls.

In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned Oct. 9 over new allegations that his People’s Party used government money to buy positive coverage of him in the media. In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babis lost badly in an election after revelations that he used undeclared wealth to buy a castle in France.

In Poland, more than 100,000 people took to the streets last weekend in protest over the ruling party’s stacking of the judiciary and a recent ruling by the constitutional ctribunal that Poland can ignore EU laws. More than 80% of Poles do not want to jeopardize the country’s EU membership. They see it as a check on political corruption.

These recent events point to another result of last month’s poll of Europeans by the watchdog group Transparency International. Nearly two-thirds say ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption. That’s a mighty force for honesty and accountability in government. In October, many politicians felt that moral force.

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