It’s perhaps telling that the European Commission never before issued a report on corruption. Europe is, after all, largely considered one of the “cleanest” in the world, with the Scandinavian countries in particular always winning global rankings on transparency.
But the extent of corruption across Europe, revealed in a first-of-its kind report today, is “breathtaking,” European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told Sweden's Goeteborgs-Posten newspaper.
The report says that none of the 28 members of the EU is immune from corruption, and that it costs their economies a total of $162.2 billion a year.
The findings hurt the image of the EU overall, but they’ll do more harm to certain countries, particularly those hit worst by economic crisis and the newest full-fledged members, Romania and Bulgaria.
Ms. Malmström said in a statement released ahead of the report that "corruption undermines citizens' confidence in democratic institutions and the result of law, it hurts the European economy, and deprives states of much-needed tax revenue,” she said. "Member states have done a lot in recent years to fight corruption, but today's report shows that it is far from enough."
The report is good news for the north. “Answers confirm a positive perception and low experience of bribery in the case of Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, and Sweden,” it notes. These residents say they’ve rarely paid a bribe – less than one percent – and the percentage of those saying they believe corruption is widespread at home (20 percent, 29 percent, 42 percent and 44 percent respectively) is significantly below the EU average of 76 percent.
It’s not such good news for the south, however. In Portugal, Spain, and Italy, almost everyone feels corruption is widespread, at 90 percent, 95 percent, and 97 percent respectively (even though the actual act of bribe-paying in these countries is less than 3 percent). The European Commission concludes that recent political scandals and the economic and financial crisis have contributed to their disillusionment.
That mirrors findings from Berlin-based Transparency International released last year, and show the eurocrisis undermining the public’s trust in institutions, especially within the countries most indebted.
"There is a deterioration in public trust in public institutions,” Anne Koch, regional director for Europe and Central Asia at Transparency International, told The Christian Science Monitor after the July release of the organization's poll. “There is a sense that Europe is slightly adrift politically.”
Today’s report might be most damaging for Romania and Bulgaria, which are part of the EU but only had their work restrictions lifted in several EU countries on January 1.
The report showed that both countries, along with Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Greece, experience significant levels of actual bribe-paying and high percentages of those who say corruption is widespread at home.
They are slated to become part of the passport-free Schengen zone. But nations such as France have argued that their commitment to rule-of-law is not up to par yet. Findings today will only add to those arguing that Romania and Bulgaria should remain out for now.