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22nd Oct 2017

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When it comes to corruption, perception and reality do not (always) match

  • Norway is the world’s least corrupt country according to a new Index of Public Integrity.

A new Index of Public Integrity aims at measuring corruption levels around the world using big data and quantifiable criteria.

The world's least corrupt country is not Denmark. It is Norway.

While this does not sound like revolutionary news, the reason for this slight shift is not updated data, but rather a new way to measure corruption.

Since 1995, when it was first calculated, Transparency Internationals' Corruption Perception Index has established itself as the go-to reference on corruption levels. Norway comes in 5th in this index.

The new ranking, in which Norway comes in first, is established according to a new Index of Public Integrity calculated by the ANTICORRP project, a EU-founded research group. The index, the researchers claim, measures corruption through objective variables, instead of relying on the perception of corruption levels in a country.

"While merit has to go to [the Transparency International] index, it is a subjective index," said Alessio Terzi, an affiliate fellow at a Bruegel event in Brussels who introduced a talk focussing on the index.

The new measure mostly correlates with the legacy Corruption Perception Index as well as with World Bank figures on corruption control, but also shows that, in Europe, people in Italy think their government is more corrupt than it actually is, while Germans have a slightly too favourable view of their administration.

Germany only 8th in ANTICORRP Public Integrity Index

Italy ends 27th in corruption perception, but 20th in the Public Integrity Index, on a list of 28 European countries for which both indexes provide data, according to an analysis by VoxEurop.

Germany, despite taking 6th place in corruption perception, only ends 8th on the ANTICORRP index. Austria falls from 10th to 14th, Belgium from 9th to 11th, and Croatia from 21st in Corruption Perception to 28th in the Public Integrity Index. The Czech Republic slightly improves, from 19th to 15th.

ANTICORRP's Index of Public Integrity uses publicly available big data in six key fields which the researchers identified to measure corruption: judicial independence, administrative burden, trade openness, budget transparency, e-citizenship, and freedom of the press.

The criteria has been selected based on a theoretical framework by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a professor at the Hertie School of Governance and a team at the European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State-Building (ERCAS). ANTICORRP researchers also use a broader definition of corruption, which also includes the attribution of public contracts or funds to political friends, among other criteria.

Corruption, Mungiu-Pippidi said at Bruegel in Brussels, is "any form of favouritism, legal or illegal, resulting in privilege or discrimination of citizens of companies by a public authority."

"We are worried about bribery, but we are much more worried about political favouritism," Mihaly Fazekas, a research associate at the department of sociology at the University of Cambridge who also contributed to the ANTICORRP project, said.

According to Mungiu-Pippidi, there are only about 20 countries in which public resources are fairly distributed. New Zealand (4th), the U.S. (10th), South Korea (16th) and Costa Rica (18th) are the non-European countries among the top 20 on the Index of Public Integrity.

Chad and Venezuela come in last of the 105 countries included in the index. These two also score badly on the Corruption Perception index, with places 147 and 158 respectively of 168 countries included in Transparency International's index.

Finding new ways to fight corruption

Corruption remains an issue in Europe, accounting for half the loss of trust in European institutions between the last two rounds of European elections.

"If all EU countries were to control corruption at the levels of the most advanced EU states, we would immediately earn half the EU budget for this year," mostly in taxes, said Mungiu-Pippidi.

Yet, Europe has been doing more than ever in its existence to fight corruption, said Carl Dolan, director of the Transparency International Europe Office in Brussels, even if European legal frameworks remain weak and more still needs to be done.

The index by ANTICORRP also aims at highlighting the key areas to work on in order to curb corruption. The index "shows the significant areas for reforms," its website reads. "Unless a country does well in all these areas it is unlikely to be able to control corruption."

The biggest difference between the best and lowest scoring country in the EU is the level of judicial independence. Scores range from 9.86 out of 10 for Finland to 3.37 for the Slovak Republic.

Freedom of the press scores go from 5.21 (Greece) to 10 (Norway and Sweden). Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Malta and Lithuania rank worst in budget transparency, scoring below 7, while Ireland and France lead for trade openness.

One of the greatest enemies of progress in our time

At the world's first international anti-corruption summit, not many countries showed up on 12 May in Lancaster House, near Buckingham Palace, London.

David Cameron, at the summit, called corruption "the cancer at the heart of so many of the world's problems" and "one of the greatest enemies of progress in our time."

After a day of talks, around 40 countries signed a commitment to "expose corruption wherever it is found, to pursue and punish those who perpetrate, facilitate or are complicit in it, to support the communities who have suffered from it, and to ensure it does not fester in our government institutions, businesses and communities".

The public integrity index, the researchers say, provides a new tool to measure concrete effects beyond the headlines of such policies. But its reliance on public and open source data is one of its weaknesses.

"The important thing is that this data is out there," Fazekas said. "Once it's out there, we have built the tools to look at the data."

Yann Schreiber is a Franco-Austrian journalist. A graduate in political science, he has been publishing his works in Der Standard, Le Journal International and Libération and is currently writing for Ijsberg Magazine. He is the German editor of VoxEurop.

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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