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24th Feb 2024

Pandemic exposed corruption in some EU health systems

  • Six percent of EU citizens paid an outright bribe to receive health care, with the numbers far worse in some EU member states. Bribery rates in health care are highest in Romania and Bulgaria (Photo: Images_of_Money)

Three-in-10 people in the European Union pay a bribe or use a personal connection to access a public service, a Transparency International report says.

According to the Global Corruption Barometer report for the EU, two-thirds of EU citizens surveyed consider corruption to be a considerable problem for their public institutions and more than half think their governments are controlled by private interests and that institutions have not been transparent during the ongoing health crisis.

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While over 80 percent of citizens in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Italy, Spain consider their governments to be plagued by corruption, less than 20 percent of people living in Denmark and Finland thought corruption in government was a big problem in their country.

Healthcare

The report looks at national healthcare systems in EU member countries as hotspots for corruption.

The findings point out to the complicated situation medical systems are in, where citizens urgently require medical assistance and need to deal with the damaging impact corruption has.

Some six percent of EU citizens paid an outright bribe to receive health care, with the numbers far worse in some EU member states. Bribery rates in health care are highest in Romania and Bulgaria with one-in-five people resorting to kickbacks for much-needed treatment.

"During a health crisis, using personal connections to access public services can be as damaging as paying bribes. Lives can be lost when connected people get a Covid-19 vaccine or medical treatment before those with more urgent needs", said Delia Ferreira Rubio, the chair of Transparency International.

If money opens doors in the Romanian and Bulgaria healthcare system, personal connections work best in Portugal, Hungary and the Czech Republic - where half of responds relied on them to get accesses and care.

"During this period we saw what corruption in the medical system, the distrust in the medical staff and authorities can do. This is obvious if we look at the percentages of vaccinated people in countries where the population has very little confidence in the authorities", Armand Gosu, University of Bucharest professor and Eastern Europe expert, told EUobserver

Democracy

The survey also looked at how corruption chips away at democratic fundamentals in some EU member states. "In France, Poland and Spain, 60 percent of respondents or more said their governments acted in a non-transparent manner", Transparency International points out.

"There are enough details to show that leaders from various countries used restrictions imposed for health reasons to hide details about contracts, to use the business opportunity imposed by the pandemic", Armand Gosu told EUobserver.

The report particularly singles out Poland and Hungary as countries that use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to weekend democratic institutions.

Earlier this spring, the EU-focused human rights watchdog organisation, Civil Liberties Union for Europe, also made a similar observation saying that Hungary, Poland and Slovenia are the member states most prone to take advantage of Covid-19 responses in order to thwart democracy and weaken the rule of law.

They used Covid-19 regulations to cloak abuses, hinder oversight limit freedom of information and assembly as well as well as fast-track bills through parliament.

The report warns that corruption threatens all activities.

"These results should be a wake-up call both for national governments and the EU institutions. Corruption is undermining public trust and policymakers need to listen to the concerns of the public," Michiel van Hulten, director of Transparency International EU, said.

There is a strong feeling across a third of the citizens from the 27-country bloc that corruption has got worse over the previous 12 months.

While MPs in national parlilaments are regarded as the most corrupt, business executives, bankers and national government officials, including presidents' and prime minister's offices, come a close second.

The report warns that the findings are particularly worrying in the current context as member states are preparing to roll-out billions of euros for post-pandemic recovery. European Commission is approving national plans for the spending of around €800bn by member states from now until 2026.

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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