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25th May 2019

Bulgaria and Romania perceived as most corrupt EU states

Bulgarians and Romanians perceive their own countries as the most corrupt among EU member states, with Italy, France and Great Britain also experiencing a significant drop in public confidence in the fight against corruption, a survey released Tuesday (23 September) by Transparency International shows.

Bulgaria and Romania won a ranking of 3.6 and 3.8 respectively from their citizens on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is the most corrupt and 10 the least.

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  • Romania and Buglaria come out bottom in corruption rankings, while Scandinavia comes out squeaky clean. (Photo: European Commission Audiovisual Library)

Political corruption, a dysfunctional judiciary and misuse of EU funds are the biggest problems in both countries, with Bulgaria also bearing a strong links between organised crime and political corruption, the analysis reads.

The survey, carried out in 180 countries around the world, measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption by drawing on different expert and business surveys.

While Romania has maintained almost the same standing compared to last year's survey, with a small increase of 0.1 points, Bulgaria has experienced a significant drop of 0.6.

"Corruption is still considered a serious problem in Romania. A lot has to be done in this country and they can't be very happy about the result. But the country that really has to worry about the perception of its corruption is Bulgaria," Jana Mittermaier, head of the Transparency International Brussels office told the EUobserver, noticing that the study was already roughly over when the European Commission decided in July to freeze the payment of some €500 million to Bulgaria due to fraud and irregularities.

After joining the EU in 2007, both Romania and Bulgaria remained under the watchful eye of the European Commission's 'co-operation and verification mechanism', which continues to monitor judicial reforms and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

"I think [Bulgaria and Romania's] scores speak for themselves and we will take this into account when we prepare the next co-operation and verification report, as we did in 2007 and in July this year," commission spokesperson Mark Gray said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Poisonous political climate

Both Romania and Bulgaria have a "poisonous political climate" that prevents them from effectively fighting corruption, and pushes individuals to focus on the struggle for power instead of on rooting out the problem, German Christian Democrat MEP Ingeborg Graessle told the EUobserver.

She spoke of a "vicious circle" present in these countries, where corruption mixes with a dysfunctional judiciary and administration is then topped with a dysfunctional political system.

Mrs Graessle is a member of the European Parliament's budgetary control committee, which is about to send a fact finding mission to Bulgaria on 28 September in order to check the situation following the fund freeze.

A similar mission to Romania is not yet scheduled however, even though the EU also decided to suspend payment to the country of agricultural funds amounting to some €80 million following an audit completed in June this year, she added.

For the German MEP, Bulgaria seems to be more aware of its problem than Romania, where a number of politicians seem to be "in denial" about the matter, Mrs Graessle argues.

An initiative of hers asking the European Commission to report every three months to the EP budgetary control committee on the way pre-accession funds are being spent in the two countries was blocked within the EPP-ED group by her Romanian colleagues, a worrying sign that political unity for tight control of EU funds is waning, she said.

Fading trust in Western countries

Although Scandinavian countries continue to lead in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index - with Denmark and Sweden holding the pole position on 9.3, some Western states such as Italy, France, Great Britain, Portugal and Finland have seen a significant increase in public concern regarding corruption.

"This is really new, we've never had something like this until now. We believe oversight and accountability mechanisms need to improve in order to prevent wealthy countries to backslide," Mrs Mittermaier, head of TI's Brussels office told the EUobserver.

Italy has seen a drop in public confidence in the fight against corruption from 5.2 in 2007 to 4.8 this year, mainly caused by the political interference with the High Commissioner against Corruption and by the fraud and corruption cases in its public health system, she explained.

In France, several cases of high-level public officials connected to corrupt activities surfaced over the past two years, including those of former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the indictment of former French President Jacques Chirac, resulting in a drop from 7.3 in 2007 to 6.9 in 2008.

Meanwhile, in Great Britain, the decision taken in December 2006 to discontinue a criminal investigation of BAE Systems in relation to its contracts with Saudi Araiba raised acute concerns about the country's anti-corruption efforts, leading to a drop in confidence of 0.7 to 7.7 this year.

"Standards in the anti-corruption efforts are falling all across Europe. It's about time the EU intensified the efforts in this area," Drago Kos, head of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), told the EUobserver.

Mr Kos criticised the decision of several member states to abolish or "restructure" anti-corruption bodies, warning that this measure will only lead to an increased politicisation of the fight against corruption.

"Abolition of anti-corruption institutions will call for the traditional institutions - police, prosecutors - to take up this job. But police and prosecutors are traditionally under the auspices of the ruling government," he argued.

GRECO was established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to monitor states' compliance with the organisation's anti-corruption standards.

The US ranks 18th in this year's survey, on 7.3, while Russia ranks 147th with 2.1.

The most corrupt country in the world is Somalia, with a ranking of just one.

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