From Greece to Germany, Europeans see government failing on corruption

According to a new report, the eurocrisis has pushed faith in government below the global average.

John Kolesidis/Reuters
Municipal workers protest outside parliament during a rally against the public sector reforms and layoffs Greece has promised its international lenders, in Athens July 8. Residents in Greece and Spain have taken to the streets in anti-austerity protests aimed at both their governments and other members of the EU, most notably Germany.

The eurocrisis across Europe has undermined the public’s trust in institutions, especially within the countries most indebted, according to a new report by Transparency International

The Berlin-based organization’s "Global Corruption Barometer 2013," a survey of 114,000 people in 107 countries, shows that globally, 22 percent of people think their government is effective in fighting corruption.

But in Spain that number is just 8 percent. In Italy, it’s 13 percent. And Greeks and Portuguese have the least trust in the world regarding their governments' efforts:  Just 1 percent of respondents say their government is making strides against corruption.

And distrust is not limited to the ailing countries of southern Europe, which have needed bailouts from the European Union and been forced to live through austerity measures in exchange for aid packages. In France and Britain, only 9 percent and 11 percent of respondents, respectively, trust government efforts to tackle corruption. Even in booming Germany, a mere 13 percent express trust in government anti-corruption efforts. These are all far below the global average.

All time lows

At the same time, trust in political parties is at all-time lows. In Greece, 90 percent of respondents say that political parties are affected by corruption – up from 69 percent in 2007.

“There is a deterioration in public trust in public institutions,” says Anne Koch, regional director for Europe and Central Asia at Transparency International (TI). “There is a sense that Europe is slightly adrift politically.”

Residents in Greece and Spain have taken to the streets in anti-austerity protests aimed at both their governments and other members of the EU, most notably Germany. At the same time, anger has grown in northern countries, particularly in Germany, that fear they'll have to pay the price of fiscal irresponsibility of other nations.

Domestic affairs have played a role in public perceptions of corruption. French President François Hollande faced a tide of anger after Jerôme Cahuzac, the country’s former junior budget minister, admitted April 2 after repeated denials that he had evaded taxes. Portugal’s government was nearly toppled last week over a budget dispute.

Europe is not alone. In 51 countries around the world, political parties are seen as the most corrupt institution, followed by the police and justice systems. And a majority, or 55 percent of respondents, say they believe that government is run by special interests.

But it’s particularly worrisome as Europe remains mired in crisis, and when public trust in leadership is vital to political stability and the inter-governmental trust needed to solve the crisis. 

In addition...

The TI polls adds to a growing number of public opinion surveys showing that trust is declining. A recent Pew poll, aptly named “The New Sick Man of Europe: The European Union,” showed that the favorability of the union fell from 60 percent in 2012 to 45 percent just a year later.

In that same poll, 77 percent of the French – founding members of the EU project – said they believed integration made things worse for their country. 

Many expressed doubts about their government’s leadership during the crisis. Only Germans said they believe their leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, has done a good job shepherding the nation. 

The TI poll does highlight some positive trends. Nine out of 10 people surveyed, for example, said they would take action against corruption.

And Europe can learn from others' example. While more than two-thirds of respondents in Spain and Italy say government has been captured by special interests (the number shoots to 83 percent in Greece), in Norway it’s a mere 5 percent, a lesson to nations from Scandinavia about “how to run one’s government so that it is seen by most to serve the overall public good,” the report concludes.

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