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European states need to do more to tackle public sector corruption

The European Commission has highlighted the continuing need of EU states to improve their efforts to tackle corruption, in its first ever EU Anti-Corruption Report (the “Report”), published on 3 February 2014. The Report assesses the efforts of all 28 EU Member States to prevent corruption in their public sectors, looking in particular the impact of corruption on how companies do business and how the public accesses services. Political accountability and the management of vested interests, transparency in decision–making (such as public procurement decisions), the financing of political parties and the effectiveness of anti-corruption measures were all examined.

Drawing on an extensive body of publically available data and specially commissioned in-country surveys, the Report’s findings include that three-quarters of Europeans think that corruption is widespread in their own country, with 56% saying it has increased over the last three years. One in 12 Europeans said that they had experienced or witnessed a case of corruption in the last year. However, the results from Member States differ widely. Fewer than 1% of respondents from Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden said that they had been asked to pay a bribe and the perception that corruption is widespread in those countries is significantly lower than the EU average of 74% (20%, 29%, 42% and 44% respectively). In the UK, only 5 out of 1115 people had been expected to pay a bribe – the best result in the EU. However, a far greater number of UK respondents - 64% - considered that corruption is widespread in the UK.

While the findings vary across Member States, some common themes emerge:

  • corruption risks are generally greater at local and regional level, where checks and controls may be weaker than at national level
  • the construction and health care sectors remain at particular risk of corruption
  • political accountability remains an issue, with weak codes of conduct for politicians and limited controls on financing
  • rules on conflicts of interests are weak and inadequately enforced
  • public procurement, which accounts for the expenditure of approximately one fifth of the EU’s GDP every year, is particularly vulnerable to corruption.

The full Commission report is available here. The UK-specific report is available here. The reports for other Member States are accessible here.

A more detailed version of this report is available on Linklaters Knowledge Portal.