Italy seen as corrupt as Greece, Romania and Bulgaria
Italy, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria are seen as equally corrupt among EU countries, while Denmark is the least graft-prone country, according to the yearly corruption perception index published by Transparency International on Wednesday (3 December).
The index scores and ranks countries around the world based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be.
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Finland and Sweden also score well, coming in directly after Denmark, according to the index which relies on a combination of surveys and assessments.
Even as EU countries have higher scores than countries like Russia, Ukraine or Turkey, Transparency International notes that in 2014 there were numerous scandals in "old Europe".
In France, Spain and Italy they included a former president, a current regional president and members of the royal family, "not to mention dozens of politicians and influential business people".
EU citizens also protested against corruption in Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The Corruption Perceptions Index scores in many EU countries remain unchanged or have improved slightly.
"In part, this is because the economic situation has stabilised, at least at present, and in some cases, governments are starting to tackle endemic corruption," TI explains.
It cites Greece as an example where recent reforms have moved the country up by three points - even as it still has the lowest score in the EU, together with Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.
"We also welcome the gradual progress made by the UK in the last few years, which saw its score increase by two points, indicating the effectiveness of the Bribery Act on the UK’s international reputation," TI writes.
Tax-dodging is also an issue for the EU as a whole.
“We know that any effort to stop corruption in one country is undermined as long as corrupt officials are allowed to hide their money in another. That is why the EU must act in the next few weeks to prevent money laundering and clamp down on the secret companies that mask corruption,” said Carl Dolan, head of the Transparency International EU office.
TI notes that two months ago, a money laundering investigation was launched involving 19 UK companies in an alleged conspiracy to launder €15.7 billion of dirty money.
The funds are suspected of coming from “major criminals and corrupt officials around the world”, channelled from Russia with the involvement of Latvian and Moldovan banks.
Other examples involving shell companies and opaque ownership structures in the EU include: stolen assets from the former regime in Ukraine, Europe’s horsemeat scandal, and Italian mafia groups such as Cosa Nostra and Camorra.