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7th Dec 2019

Greek corruption worth €800 million a year

  • Paying bribes is part of everyday life in Greece (Photo: Aster-oid)

With Greece feeling the pressure from member states, the EU commission and the IMF to get a grip on its public spending, a transparency watchdog has estimated that the cost of bribes paid out by Greek citizens for public and private services is at least €800 million a year.

"Corruption is one of the main reasons why we have this economic crisis in Greece. It's not the only one, but it's a very important one," Aris Syngros, head of Transparency International's office in Greece, said on Thursday (1 July) during a hearing in the European Parliament.

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He presented the results of a survey carried out in the second half of 2009 which puts the cost of day-to-day corruption between €717 million and €857 million, an increase by some €40 million compared to results published a year before.

The calculation is based on telephone interviews with a sample of 6,122 individuals, carried out between July and December 2009.

The survey shows that the public sector in Greece is the most prone to corruption, with 9.3 percent of households reporting that they were asked to pay a bribe in order to speed up administrative processes, get fair treatment in hospitals or avoid a penalty for traffic offences. The average bribe paid in 2009 for public services was €1,355.

But private companies and services also ask for bribes, as 5.3 percent of the people who participated in the survey admitted to have paid an average €1,671 to the private sector.

The study does not include high level corruption cases or big tax evasion schemes, which would put the figures much higher, Mr Syngros stressed.

"Corruption is not something we can't see or touch. It's real money, drained away from the real economy. Everybody speaks about recovery, growth, jobs, but without fighting corruption, this won't work," he said, urging the European Commission to put pressure on the Greek government to implement a far-reaching anti-corruption strategy.

"So far, the EU was like a spectator in a football match. We need a more active EU, that goes down on the field and is part of developing solutions."

Back in Athens, Prime Minister George Papandreou on the same day once more acknowledged that "funds are being wasted this very minute into a black hole of mismanagement, corruption and waste."

He was speaking about spiralling public health costs, stressing that the solution was not extra money, but reducing wasteful spending.

In 2009, Greece spent €11 billion on health and pensions and has cut the bill by €0.8 billion for spending in these areas this year.

A commission official present at the hearing in Brussels pointed out that the EU-IMF bailout package of €110 billion included requirements on tax evasion and on the defence sector, which is prone to corruption in many other countries as well.

The EU executive is now looking at ways to extend monitoring of anti-corruption efforts in all member states, as government and private corruption scandals ranging from defence contracts in Portugal to companies such as Siemens and Volkswagen continue to pop up, with Transparency International noting a worsening of the corruption perception in most EU countries.

"It's a question of credibility for the EU: if we present ourselves at international level as upholding a certain standard, we have to do more at home as well. We are now working on a mechanism of periodical reporting on anti-corruption efforts within the EU," a commission official said.

Romanian centre-right MEP Monica Macovei, a former justice minister, also noted that the EU had no means of putting pressure on countries once they became members. "We only ask candidate countries to meet certain criteria on justice reform and anti-corruption measures. But once they're in, there is nothing, no acquis, no pressure. That's why we need this mechanism," she said.

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