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26th May 2022

Hungary drops sharply in global anti-corruption index

  • Corruption scandals regarding EU funds under Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban, right, have become the “new normal” in the country, Transparency International said (Photo: European Parliament)

Hungary has seen the sharpest drop among EU countries in the annual corruption index compiled by Transparency International (TI), a global NGO.

Hungary dropped 11 points since 2012, scoring 44 out of a 100 on the index, indicating it had become more prone to corruption.

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  • An inquiry into the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia eventually led to the resignation of former Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

It has joined Bulgaria and Romania at the bottom of the list among EU nations - all ranking jointly at 69, out of the 180 countries surveyed. In first place, seen as the least corrupt, is New Zealand.

Weakening independent institutions, growing political influence on the media, an increasingly hostile environment for civil society, and corruption scandals regarding EU funds had become the country's "new normal", TI writes in its analysis on Hungary.

During the pandemic, the governing Fidesz party's two-thirds majority further centralised its power and weakened control of public spending, it added.

Last year Hungary, along with Poland - both countries which are under EU scrutiny for rule of law breaches - threatened to veto the EU's Covid-19 recovery funding with the aim of weakening the links between EU funding and respect of the rule of law.

"No one takes Transparency International seriously in Hungary," Zoltan Kovacs, Hungarian government spokesman tweeted, claiming the organisation supports the opposition in Hungary and that it is funded by US billionaire George Soros.

Poland dropped seven points since 2015 in the index and now ranks 45 out of 180 countries.

"The steady erosion of the rule of law and democratic oversight has created conditions for corruption to flourish at the highest levels of power," TI said.

As recently as Wednesday (27 January), the EU commission sent a fresh letter to Warsaw over worries that the Law and Justice party-led government uses the new Polish judicial Disciplinary Tribunal to reign in the judiciary.

"The current developments in Poland and Hungary show more than clearly: Europe's rule of law is in a serious crisis. Democracies are being undermined and political systems tailored to the financial needs of an oligarchic elite," German Green MEP Daniel Freund, who co-chairs the anti-corruption intergroup in the European Parliament, said in a statement.

He added that the EU Commission should use its new conditionality tool, which ties EU funds to respect for the rule of law.

Romania and Bulgaria have both been lagging in the index. While Romania has stood still in its standing over the last nine years, Bulgaria has shown a slight improvement since 2012.

Malta

Malta is another EU county that has seen a sharp decline, as it has dropped seven points since 2015.

In 2019, an inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia shed light on high-level corruption and led to the resignation of prime minister Joseph Muscat.

Malta has also received heat for its controversial 'Golden Passport' programme, and for failings at its biggest bank concerning money laundering.

Cyprus has also dropped significantly in the ratings since 2012.

Greece and Italy have improved considerably over the same period in terms of perceived corruption, with TI crediting "bold reforms" for the improvement in the case of Greece.

2012 is used as the most recent baseline for standardised comparisons by TI.

"In view of the current figures, it is shocking that the EU Commission is still not taking decisive action against corruption in the member states," Freund said.

"Financial sanctions must be used when EU funds are being misused. Words of warning from Brussels have no effect," he added.

Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Germany are all in the top-ten best performers on the index.

"Closing the corruption divide in the EU is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Corruption permeates every aspect of public life and undermines trust in institutions," Slovak liberal MEP Michal Simecka said in a tweet.

"East and South have a historical opportunity to learn from North as part of one community," he added.

Overall, the EU is still among the least corrupt places in the world.

But Transparency International warned that graft can undermine the global health response to Covid-19, and contribute to a "continuing crisis of democracy".

"Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage," Delia Ferreira Rubio, Transparency International's chair said.

The organisation ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, based on 13 expert assessments plus surveys from business executives.

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The European Commission's first report on the rule of law has raised concerns over the lack of effective anti-corruption efforts in some members sates - while it considers Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands have good governance measures.

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Saturday's elections in Slovakia could herald the rise of the far-right People's Party Our Slovakia, or the emergence of a populist anti-corruption candidate, in a country wracked by mistrust since the assassination two years ago of an investigative journalist.

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