Governments are not doing enough in the global fight against graft, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said on February 21 after presenting its annual Corruption Perceptions Index,
The report paints a bleak picture for some European countries – and a stark warning for the European Union – as several member states are backsliding on the rule of law and media freedom.
New Zealand remained in first place, but Nordic countries again dominated the top of the table, including Denmark which placed second. Finland and Norway tied for third with Switzerland and Sweden in sixth alongside Singapore.
Canada and the UK were tied with Luxembourg and the Netherlands for eighth place, while European economic powerhouse Germany ranked 12th.
Hungary has fallen precipitously by 10 points over the last six years, coinciding with the authoritarian tendencies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the tightening of his grip on the country’s state institutions and an overall clampdown on civil society.
Hungary now ranks lower than Montenegro, a country whose EU membership aspiration have been blocked by what the European Commission recently described as showing elements of “state capture… and corruption at all levels of government and administration.”
Over the last six years, there have been numerous allegations in Hungary that members of the ruling right-wing Fidesz party and their close associates have been misusing public funds, much of which come from EU-funded projects. This takes place alongside efforts by the government to shut down the activities of independent voices in civil society and academia, such as the highly regarded Central European University. In a move that echoed Orban’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his government recently proposed that NGOs branded as ‘foreign-funded’ should lose their non-profit status.
A similar move by the right-wing government in Poland is currently taking place and should serve as a stark warning to Brussels that the rule of law must be upheld in all the Member States, that the judiciaries are free and independent and that journalists and civil society can hold those in power accountable for their actions.
“Where the rule of law has been severely eroded in Hungary and other Member States, the result has been a flood of state-sponsored corruption,” said Carl Dolan, Director of Transparency International EU. “Poland may soon be swept along in the same direction, with worrisome moves to curb the independence of the judiciary, space for civil society and freedom of the press,” Dolan continued.
In the next eighteen months, as part of discussions on the next budget post-2020, the EU has the opportunity to ensure that the funds it distributes to the Member States come with strict conditions to uphold the rule of law, as Transparency International has previously argued.
EU money must not be used to bankroll governments that reject EU values of democracy, equality, and the rule of law, according to the anti-corruption group.
“The last six years have demonstrated how few cards the EU has to play when Member States challenge fundamental EU values. Concrete action to promote the rule of law and preventing corruption needs to be at the heart of the next generation of EU funding and policies,” concluded Dolan.
Somalia was the worst performer this year, ranking last among the 180 nations listed. South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen were also ranked at the bottom of the list.