Corruption seen as pervasive in crisis-hit EU states
A leading pro-transparency group has said that EU countries the worst affected by the crisis are perceived as being among the most corrupt.
Berlin-based Transparency International, which released its annual corruption perceptions index on Wednesday (5 December), says member states need to make big efforts to safeguard public institutions from graft.
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"The world's leading economies should lead by example, making sure that their institutions are fully transparent and their leaders are held accountable," said Cobus de Swardt, managing director of Transparency International.
Based on a series of surveys and assessments collected in the past two years, the index ranks corruption perception in the public sector of each country with a score from 0 to 100.
At 32, Greece ranks at the bottom of the eurozone countries. Some 98 percent of Greeks see corruption as a major problem, according to another survey conducted by the EU's statistical office, Eurostat.
The TI office in Greece says the country needs to adopt an anti-corruption plan put forward last week by a European Commission representative at a conference in Athens.
"If fully and swiftly implemented by the government of Greece it could mark the start of a serious push to fight corruption in a country where the link between corruption and the financial crisis is clear for many citizens," said TI's EU office director, Jana Mittermaier.
Petty corruption in Greece appears to dominate at hospitals, tax offices and construction-license bodies. The office says Greeks paid out €554 million in bribes in 2011, a €78 million drop compared to 2010.
Meanwhile, reports that some of the country’s richest are hiding away their huge wealth at bank accounts in Switzerland dominate headlines.
The 89-year old mother of the former socialist prime minister George Papandreou has allegedly stashed some €500 million in a Swiss bank account, a charge she denies.
Others allegedly avoiding paying into the Greek tax system include Stavros Papastavros, an aide to prime minister Antonis Samaras, as well as other high-level officials in the finance ministry.
Greece is not alone in a pack of low scoring member states where corruption is perceived as pervasive - Bulgaria, Italy and Romania fare only slightly better, with respective rankings of 41, 42, and 44.
Ireland scored in the middle of the range at 69, ahead of Spain at 65 and Portugal at 63.
The top end of the EU list is shared by both Denmark and Finland at 90, followed by Sweden and the Netherlands. Easy access to information and rules governing the behavior of those in office contributed to the high scores, says TI.
The European Commission, for its part, estimates around €120 billion is lost every year to corruption in Europe, with public procurement and the healthcare sector the worst affected.