The problem of corruption in the EU

4 January 2017

Two thirds of the voting population in the EU believe both their political parties and their national parliaments to be ‘corrupt’.

Anti-corruption activists Laurence Cockcroft and Anne-Christine Wegener recently wrote to draw attention to the fact that two thirds of the voting population in the EU believe both their political parties and their national parliaments to be ‘corrupt’. 

This perceived corruption is not in the form of direct cash bribes, but of rent-seeking and buying influence. For example, in 2013 75% of German Pharmaceutical firms claimed that the leasing of both medical equipment and contracts for research were subject to medium to high levels of corruption and 20% reported losing a contract through corruption.

Prominent too is the influence of mafia groups over the Italian construction industry, highlighted by the discovery of €204 million in cash in the house of Massimo Carminati, friend of former Mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno. Efforts to clean the system are hamstrung by political rivalries and mafia linked appointees. These issues are also seen to exist in construction across the EU, in shady connections between governments, elected politicians at national and international level and in many cases, organised crime.

In an age of expenditure and fundraising caps for Parties, though, who is selling influence? Cockcroft and Wegener write:

In Brussels, the 9,500 now formally registered lobbyists (of which 6,000 represent corporate interests) focus on both objectives and the text of the legislation which will go to the European Parliament.  The sway of lobbyists, contracted to work for corporate interests, can even extend to writing the actual text in legislation.

Contacts made by lobbyists and NGOs are elucidated by the EU’s Transparency Register, but Cockcroft and Wegener claim that commercial lobbyists can still influence policy through expert ‘Expert Committees’.

The effect of this rent-seeking and the influence of lobbyists is to establish the belief that European democracies are swayed by powerful corporate and private interests. Cockroft and Wegener argue that reversing this belief, and so restoring legitimacy to national and European institutions, will require revealing and clamping down on the behaviours that fuel it.