Corruption Perception: how can we improve corruption measurements?

By Ramin Dadašov and Niklas Kossow

When releasing the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), every year, Transparency International (TI) can be sure to attract the attention of the wider public including policy makers, academics and the media. According to its latest results, the problem remains severe across the globe. More than two thirds of countries covered by the CPI suffer from serious corruption. Still, the current report also says that there is significant improvement in many countries: this seems to be good news for the growing anti-corruption community. Yet, some of the CPI results do raise some eyebrows. The steady raise of Qatar’s scores, for instance, cannot be squared with the governance realities on the Arabian Peninsula.

The role of the CPI and its companion – the World Bank’s Control of Corruption indicator (CCI) – in raising public awareness of the magnitude and the spread of corruption worldwide cannot be underestimated. Moreover, thanks to these indicators and the resulting huge body of empirical research in the last years we have learnt a lot (although by far not everything) about the factors which explain cross-country variation in corruption levels. The key feature of both indicators is that they are based on the aggregation of perceptions of experts and the general population. The aggregation of a variety of sources aims to reduce the measurement errors associated with individual surveys and to reflect the broad concept of corruption which underlines the measurements. Although the CPI and CCI differ with respect to sources employed and aggregation methods, they are highly correlated (for a global sample of 173 countries in 2013 data, e.g., the correlation between both indicators is r=0.98).

TI-CPI

As aggregate perception indicators both indicators have received several criticisms since their first publication in the mid-90s. Leaving aside the discussion on methodological and conceptual issues, one of the major concerns is their “lagging nature”:  Changes in the assessments of corruption often reflect corrections of errors done in the past. One illustrative example is Brazil. Hit by the Petrobras scandal that broke in 2014, it has been suffering from a severe economic and political crisis; the country’s current CPI scores deteriorated compared to the previous year after being stable between 2012 and 2014. The positive development of uncovering a previously hidden corruption scandal was not reflected in the score.  Other notable example in this context is the worsening of CCI scores in Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal in the aftermath of the recent financial and fiscal crisis.

These examples make clear that interpreting changes in CPI or CCI should be done very cautiously. Using them for guiding policymakers can be misleading or even harmful as they might be silent about the potential outcome of anti-corruption reforms. Ukraine’s CPI score showed almost no change between 2012 and 2015, despite witnessing major anti-corruption reforms since the Maidan revolution in early 2014. Until very recently the methodology of CPI did not even allow for comparison across years which, despite explicit warnings by TI, did not hinder many users from doing so.

A corruption indicator that addresses the needs of the policy community thus needs to be a diagnostic tool that assesses the institutional capacity of a society to control corruption. It should be based on objective data, solidly grounded in evidence thereby transparently reflecting preventive policies for curbing corruption. Building on our work in ANTICORRP, the ERCAS team has been working on building such a tool.

Specifically, we propose an indirect way of capturing the national level of control of corruption through an Index of Public Integrity (IPI). Relying on objective and actionable data, it combines six different indicators reflecting aspects of red tape, transparency, judicial constraints, and social accountability.  A global version of the IPI covering around 100 countries will be available soon. A more limited version that covers only 28 European Member States was presented this month in a report commissioned by the Dutch EU presidency. Its approach enables researchers to track progress over time and to consider the impact of reform efforts. Similarly, as part of the DIGIWHIST project, our researchers are working on ways to use red flags in the context of public procurement as indicators for high-level corruption. As a governance field particularly prone to corruption, procurement practices can be used as proxies to estimate societal corruption levels, if used with care.

Our research shows that there is still a long way to go in order to reach truly objective measurements of corruption. Yet, there are steps in the right direction. Thanks to the efforts of the growing anti-corruption community we will soon be able to find indicators which will help us to inform the policy community on how to effectively fight corruption.

Digital Whistleblowing. Blessing or Curse?

Whistleblowing Panel

What does whistleblowing look like in the digital age? What are its benefits and pitfalls? On 17 November 2015 the Hertie School of Governance and the Council of Europe hosted a discussion on these questions. The event was a satellite event to the World Forum for Democracy, taking place at the Council of Europe 18 – 21 November and focusing on finding the right balance between freedom and control in democratic societies. The Hertie School brought together a set of panellists from a variation of countries and fields to present their very own experiences of working with whistleblowing. The panel was moderated by Anne Koch, regional director for Europe and Central Asia at Transparency International.

The different panellists showcased various experiences of working in the context of whistleblowing: Marius Dragomir, a journalist and senior manager for the independent journalism programme of the Open Society Foundations in London, Maksymilian Czuperski, working the Atlantic Council which recently supported the collection of evidence for the presence of Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine by crowdsourcing information from citizens. It also featured Simona Levi, the founder of Xnet, a Spanish online journalism platform specialized on engaging citizen. Xnet actively calls upon citizens to become whistleblowers and leak undisclosed information in order to uncover corrupt behaviour.

The final two panellists were Mara Mendes, project manager for Open Knowledge Germany and Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, professor of democratization at the Hertie School. They presented DIGIWHIST, a new EU Horizon 2020 project. The project aims at increasing transparency and efficiency of public spending. It will do this through the systematic collection, structuring, analysis, and broad dissemination of information on public procurement through online platforms. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi highlighted the centrality of procurement data in fighting corruption. Linked to information on aggregate asset and income declarations data, she hopes that this data will help detect potential conflicts of interest and identify systemic vulnerabilities. In this way DIGIWHIST is supposed to specifically support journalists in creating transparency within the procurement sector.

What is a whistleblower?

One reoccurring theme at the discussion was the actual definition of a whistleblower. Anne Koch opened the panel by describing it as “any person that wants to report wrong doing to someone who can do something against the problem.” This stood somehow in contrast to the experience of Xnet’s Simona Levi, who, for instance, collected emails from whistleblowers at big Spanish banks and reported on wrongdoings in these contexts. The panel agreed though that a whistleblower does not necessarily have to be someone working for the government or a private enterprise and release information from the inside. For Alina Mungiu-Pippidi it was “a person who is aware of a situation the rest of the world is not and brings it to public attention.” It can also be a group of people collectively gathering information that the wider public is unaware off, or analyse data collectively in order to highlight important information.

Who has the right to decide?

The debate also looked at the pitfalls of whistleblowing and discussed the questions of what safeguards are needed to prevent harm to innocent individuals through whistleblowing. In many countries protection of whistleblowers is still deficient and there are no laws specifically protecting whistleblowers from prosecution. Often those willing to share information are unaware of technical tools which can be used to protect their identity. The participants highlighted tools such as GlobaLeaks, which provides anonymous channels for whistleblowers. Journalists in particular carry a twofold responsibility. On the one hand they need to protect their sources and those who entrust them with information, also by teaching them secure ways to share information. Journalists, however, are also responsible for the information they publish. When Anne Koch asked the panel who has the right to decide what publications are in the public interest, the panel generally agreed: journalists can decide, but they have to be aware of their special responsibility. They will, however, always be better placed to decide than civil servants who might incriminate themselves by publishing data.

In the end, the best kind of whistleblowing might be done collectively. Communities of people can uncover corrupt behaviour of local officials and document what is happening around them. Also, individual whistleblowers depend on those around them. As Alina Mungiu-Pippidi pointed out: “In the end, laws cannot protect whistleblowers, but public opinion can.” A similar conclusion was also taken at a panel on safe whistleblowing at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, which representatives of ERCAS also attended. One conclusion to be taken from both discussions is that whistleblowing should not remain an exception, but it should become the norm for citizens to report wrongdoings that they witness.

The Anticorruption Report. Volume 3: Government Favouritism in Europe

This volume reunites the fieldwork of 2014-2015 in the ANTICORRP project. It is entirely based on objective indicators and offers both quantitative and qualitative assessments of the linkage between political corruption and organised crime using statistics on spending, procurement contract data and judicial data. The methodology used in the analysis of particularism of public resource distribution is applicable to any other country where procurement data can be made available and opens the door to a better understanding and reform of both systemic corruption and political finance. The main conclusion of this report is that public procurement needs far more transparency and monitoring in old Member States, where it is far from perfect, as well as new ones and accession countries, where major problems can be identified, partly due to more transparency and monitoring.This policy report is the third volume of the policy series “The Anticorruption Report” produced in the framework of the EU FP7 ANTICORRP Project. The report was edited by Prof. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, PhD from the Hertie School of Governance, head of the policy pillar of the project.

Print and e-book versions of all full reports can be purchased here.

Reviews for this publication

Public infrastructure projects and other types of government procurement almost everywhere in the world suffer from favoritism and corruption, if not outright criminality. The spoils always go to the people with the right connections, wealth, or the willingness to use or threaten violence. This is among the most difficult aspects of governance for scholars to study: those who talk don’t know, and those who know don’t talk. This slim volume summarizes detailed studies of favoritism in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Turkey, and Ukraine. A final chapter shows how criminal organizations in many countries—including Mafia-like groups in Bulgaria and Italy—infiltrate national and EU-level public spending projects. Each chapter is packed with a remarkably rich set of charts, graphs, and statistical analyses that capture how much corruption exists and how it works. These succinct and eye-opening quantitative estimates of what really goes on beneath the surface of government make for indispensable reading and should straighten out anyone who doubts that the powerful always find ways to reinforce their influence and wealth, even on the “cleanest” of continents.

Andrew Moravcsik, Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University in Foreign Affairs

Science to activism. The Anticorruption Frontline

budrich2_square KopieCan social science impact policy in real time and offer relevant options for major problems that our societies face today? This is the challenge taken up by the policy pillar of the EU FP7 project ANTICORRP which deals with good governance and anticorruption policies. ANTICORRP is a five-year project based across 20 European universities and research institutes. The head of the policy pillar, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a professor at Hertie School of Governance and director of the European Centre for Anti-Corruption and State-Building in Berlin has organized work so that once a year, relevant new data, analyses and solutions are published in the form of a policy digest published by Barbara Budrich and widely distributed both in electronic and print format. The series was initiated last year with the first volume, ‘Controlling Corruption in Europe’ and has continued with the second volume, ‘The Anticorruption Frontline’ which was released this fall at the OECD Anticorruption Network Meeting (Eastern Europe and Central Asia Plenary) on 10 October 2014.

“I frequently hear the complaint that social science projects are de facto decoupled from policy and that the findings miss the window of opportunity to inform policy,” Mungiu-Pippidi says. “There are good reasons for this, primarily because the academic publishing cycle is slow and the focus is different from policy. If you study corruption, however, you have to be relevant for policy when your problem becomes salient. Which, in the case of corruption, is now.”

The core argument of ANTICORRP, a title which translates as ‘anti-body’, is that control of corruption is an equilibrium between opportunities and constraints for corrupt behaviour. To improve on it, good instruments are needed to trace change across time and understand if a policy intervention works or not. Each volume of the series thus has a special section dedicated to indicators as researchers struggle to move away from perception-based indicators such as the Corruption Perception Index to concrete ones which allow comparisons across time. The use of such indicators seriously shakes common knowledge: in the current volume of the report, researchers show that the widely used perception indicators overrate Qatar and Rwanda (two excellent reports are dedicated to each), that EU funds increase corruption risk in Hungary and Czech Republic (Hungarian researcher Mihaly Fazekas also published his innovative indicators measuring risk in public procurement in the first volume) and that Bulgaria failed in its anticorruption efforts despite serious push from the EU. What control of corruption consists of is documented in every volume with new evidence – this time, across three different datasets. Hertie School researchers are currently working to develop an interactive website instrument, which would allow countries to calculate their own corruption risk: to see where their vulnerabilities are and thus get tailored recommendations. “Our work shows that silver bullets do not exist” Mungiu-Pippidi says “but it also shows that the balance can be tipped to one side or another by smart policies. We developed a reliable statistical model which is based only on human agency factors. If there is a will, we show the way to develop the needed anti-bodies, but the prescription is different for every context. As doctors say, there are no two patients alike, so we combine good individual diagnosis with a limited set of tested instruments in various combinations.”

ANTICORRP researchers are doing policy work for the Council of Europe, OECD, European Court of Auditors and DG Home, among others. Hertie School was recently commissioned to do a synthesis of policy relevant findings in the EU for the Dutch government to assist in their preparation for assuming presidency of the European Council in 2016.

Selected chapters from the report are available on the ANTICORRP project website, together with more academic publications and deliverables of the project. Printed copies can be ordered here.

The Ambivalent Future of Ukraine

This article was originally published online in the Hot Spots Forum of the journal Cultural Anthropology. It is republished here with permission of the author.

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“Illustration of Ambivalence by Robert Neubecker for Ian Leslie’s ‘Ambivalence is Awesome’ on Slate, June 13, 2013.”

The situation in Ukraine can be grasped best by a specialist on geopolitics, a scholar of the (il)legitimacy of power, an ethnographer of insurgencies, an analyst of media propaganda wars, a trauma therapist, or by a psychologist of phobias and love-hate relationships. I have none of those specialisms, but I share their intellectual challenge—the theme of ambivalence. While “East” and “West” embark on another cycle of ideological confrontation and political standoff, there is little room left for marginal positions and ambivalent attitudes. As the outside world lashes out at Putin over the Crimea and East Ukraine, Russians turn wartime patriotic. Yet paradoxically, exactly because it is impossible to achieve a consensus, and because the black-and-white forefront positions over the Crimea and east Ukraine split families, friendships, and international clubs, it is the understanding of grey areas and backgrounds that might help define the way forward for Ukraine.

The Bi-Polar Background

One legacy shared by most survivors of oppressive political regimes is what George Orwell called “doublethink” and what Yury Levada and Alexander Zinoviev branded as being the key feature of Homo sovieticus. Under late socialism, as the present-day elites in Russia and Ukraine were growing up, it was irrelevant whether people believed official ideological messages or not. Instead, the relation to officialdom became based on intricate strategies of simulated support and on “nonofficial” practices (Yurchak 1997, 162). Individual doublethink developed into collective double standards that implied the ability to hold contradictory views in private and in public and the capacity of switching between them smoothly, when applied to “us” and “them,” to “ordinary citizens” and to the Party leaders, and to one’s personal circle and to society as a whole.

In its sociological sense, ambivalence, in the definition of Robert Merton, refers to incompatible normative expectations of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour. The incompatibility is assigned to a status and the social structures that generate the circumstances in which ambivalence is embedded (Merton 1976, 6–7). The core type of sociological ambivalence puts contradictory demands upon the occupants of a status in a particular social relation. Since these norms cannot be simultaneously expressed in behaviour, they come to be expressed in an oscillation of behaviors (Merton 1976, 8).

In the context of modernity, ambivalence is associated with fragmentation and failure of manageability. Zygmunt Bauman defined ambivalence as the possibility of assigning an object or an event to more than one category and views it as a language-specific disorder, with its main symptom being the acute discomfort we feel when we are unable to read the situation properly and to choose between alternative actions (Bauman 1991, 1, 12). Those who have detailed knowledge of geographical maps and the economic history of Ukraine or have done exhaustive research of the conflicting accounts on the current situation end up developing symptoms of ambivalence. Bauman lists ambivalence among “the tropes of the ‘other’ of Order: ambiguity, uncertainty, unpredictability, illogicality, irrationality, ambivalence, brought about by modernity with its desire to organise and to design” (Bauman 1991, 7). Ambivalence thus implies a form of disorder and negativity. In my view, ambivalence can be singled out from Bauman’s list for its bi-polarity, oscillating duality and the relative clarity of polar positions.

I note the clear visions represented by the White House and the Kremlin, even if they leave me feeling schizophrenic. Russia has gone anti-American yet again, but with a passion as if it is the first time. The United State’s approach toward Russia, as Andrew Wilson points out, reflects traditional concerns, even phobias, that are not based on an adequate understanding of the country, in part because Russia has ceased to be a focus of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. approach to Ukraine is probably even less informed, if one follows that logic.

These irreconcilable visions constitute thesis and antithesis that co-exist without a possibility of synthesis, yet without an uncertainty as to what they are. The catch is that the clarity of polarized positions does not help in dealing with the complexities at hand. An adequate understanding of the situation in Ukraine, in my view, is unachievable without complicating matters, viewing modern Ukraine in the context of its geographical, historical, economic, and political bi-polarity and without understanding the clash between the completely different modus operandi of Ukraine and Russia vis-a-vis Europe.

The “Open Secrets” of the Ukrainian Sistema

In psychoanalysis, ambivalence is often associated with ambiguity, but the differences are significant. First, ambivalence is a bi-polar concept, not multi-polar as is the case with ambiguity. Its poles (thesis and anti-thesis) are defined and there is little uncertainty as to what these poles, or co-existing views, attitudes, and beliefs are. The uncertainty is created by the unpredictability of their actualization. While ambiguity is best illustrated by shifting centers of power and political influences (as represented by the EU multi-polar model and positions of its individual members on sanctions), ambivalence is an outcome of conflicting constraints.

The ambivalence of the Ukrainian elite can be defined as substantive ambivalence (they are Russian speaking, Russian educated, and Russian thinking individuals, while fighting their own background), functional ambivalence (they criticize and attack the system that they themselves had been an integral part of), and normative ambivalence (they commit to pro-democratic values that oppose their political behaviour, for example, their position on the EU membership goes contrary to their business interests).

The ambivalence of the Ukrainian elite is distinct from duplicity, from the deliberate deceptiveness in behaviour or speech, or from double-dealing. When molded by clashing constraints, ambivalence can result in the ability for doublethink (the illogical logic), dual functionality (functionality of the dysfunctional), and double standards (for us and for them). Ambivalence is best understood through the paradoxes of modernity, such as the role of hackers in advancing cybersecurity, for example, or the elites that propagate democracy and rule of law but are ready to use any amount of force to maintain themselves in power, as Vladimir Pastukhov argues.

Living with Ambivalence

My take on Ukraine evolves from my understanding of sistema, a network-based system of governance in Russia, which operates behind the facades of formal institutions. One “open secret” of the Ukrainian sistema is that it has been unable to serve its own reproduction: in short, elites simply have grabbed too much. I agree with Wilson’s framing of Maidan as “anti-sistema” forces and his argument that people want to reboot the system but don’t have methods for doing so.

The other “open secret,” however, is that ex-Maidans and Maidans-to-be are unable to make a fundamental change: sistema has gone but long live sistema! This points to a certain grip, if not effectiveness, of sistema forces, even where weakened by violence and its own protagonists.

The bad apples vs. bad barrel dilemma of the Ukrainian governance system, sometimes referred to as kleptocracy, cannot be resolved in a non-ambivalent way. It is not the question of changing all the apples (people of the former sistema), or of changing the barrel (the regime). Living with ambivalence will remain the name of the game until Ukraine becomes capable of sustaining itself as an independent economic unity. In the last twenty-five years, there has been very little progress in this direction. The tragedies of the 2014 military confrontations in east Ukraine have made the future of Ukraine even more difficult.

Alena Ledeneva is Professor of Politics and Society, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. She is also chairs the pillar on the Impact of Corruption for the EU FP7 ANTICORRP project

References

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1991. Modernity and Ambivalence. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Merton, Robert K. 1976. Sociological Ambivalence and Other Essays. New York: Free Press.

Yurchak, Alexei. 1997. “The Cynical Reason of Late Socialism: Power, Pretense, and the Anekdot.” Public Culture 9, no. 2: 161–88.

Waging Battle on The Anticorruption Frontline

ruslanThe demand for good governance is on the rise everywhere, from Kiev to Sao Paulo, Paris to New Delhi. But has any measurable progress been made recently? Do we know which countries are succeeding and why? Do anticorruption experts and policy makers understand public concerns about corruption?

The Anticorruption Frontline, the second volume of the FP7 ANTICORRP project policy report launched last week at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, finds less than encouraging answers to these questions: Despite increased effort to fight corruption worldwide, there remains little progress on the ground. Even in countries which have shown improvement, the use of public office for private gain remains an issue. Public opinion surveys tracking concerns about corruption are frequently misunderstood – by those being surveyed as well as those proposing anticorruption policy solutions.

New research by Prof. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi of the Hertie School of Governance shows that decreased confidence in the EU, especially in Western and Southern Europe, is linked closely to citizens’ perceptions of their national government’s ability to control corruption. This confidence has been eroded in the wake of the euro crisis, most markedly in countries with the worst growth performance. Central and Eastern Europe, however, remains the last bastion of trust in EU institutions, which is perceived largely as a counterweight to untrustworthy national institutions.

Two European case studies from The Anticorruption Frontline illustrate that EU funding regulations and anti-corruption legislation alone are no panacea for the rampant favoritism inherent in extant particularistic systems. Despite an improved Bulgarian anticorruption rating according to most accepted measures, findings from the Center for the Study of Democracy on Bulgarian governance show that the avoidance of market competition in areas such as public procurement remains the rule rather than the exception. In another chapter, Mihaly Fazekas’ unique data mining method on the awarding of EU structural funding uncovers systemic corruption in Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian public contracting methods.

Such preferential treatment – and its inherent abuse of power – is one of the most insidious forms of corruption facing the world today.  Further case studies from The Anticorruption Frontline include deeper analysis of Qatar and Rwanda, two countries singled out for their improvements on anticorruption measures, yet both of which still exhibit favoritism in public procurement, as well as a look into the corrupt bed of Ukraine‘s gas market, exposed in the wake of 2014’s uprising. As every case in the book makes clear, traditional measures of corruption often fail to measure the existence and subsequent impact of such exploitation of public trust for private gain.

The Anticorruption Frontline argues that further EU regulation is not the solution. As a multidimensional phenomenon, fighting corruption requires tailored policy approaches as well as sustained support in areas such as improving transparency and strengthening civil society. The answer instead may lie in a transition from EU co-financing of large public projects – where the risk of corruption is higher – to a more universal and non-discretionary allocation of EU funding, such as an Europe-wide unemployment benefit scheme.

The Anticorruption Frontline is available for purchase via Barbara Budrich Publishers.

The Anticorruption Report. Volume 2: The Anticorruption Frontline

From Turkey to Egypt, Bulgaria to Ukraine, and Brazil to India, we witness the rise of an angry urban middle class protesting against what they see as fundamental corruption of their politicalregimes, perceived as predatory and inefficient. Corruption is near the top of all global protesters’ list of grievances – from the Occupy movement to the Arab Spring. There is increasing demand for good governance resulting in quality education and health systems, and denunciation of sheer bread and circus populism. Volume 2 of the ANTICORRP Anticorruption Report tackles these issues across key cases and developments.

Print and e-book version of the report can be purchased here.

Why Eastern Europeans did not vote

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“I vote, you vote, he/ she votes, we vote, you vote, they vote? , #they rob us!” (Photo from: Uniti Salvam)

By Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

The night before the European elections I dragged myself – despite not being in top form – to plead for one hour by myself in a TV talk show that my Romanian countrymen should vote the next day. A boycott had been called by a group of Facebook activists under the catchy slogan: “Always voting for the lesser evil amounts in the end to choosing an evil.” As turnout in the previous elections for European parliament in Romania (when I declined being a candidate for the President’s party unless his daughter, a model, stepped down) had been 27%, I was worried that the boycott call would be answered massively in all urban areas. In poor rural areas subsistence farmers are ferried to vote by political entrepreneurs. Leaving Romania, a country of 18 million voters, to be represented by its poorest and most disempowered voters seemed to me an extraordinary forfeit of our efforts prior to 2007 to make the country join EU.

Voters have good reasons to be upset with politicians. They always do. Romania’s successive governments were unable to spend more than 25% of its EU development funds. Had the EU not introduced a rule allowing engaged money to be spent even after the end of the budgetary cycle (but not indefinitely), the opportunity costs would have been at about 18 billion Euro presently and they will probably stabilize at half of this. Romanian MEP Mr. Severin, filmed on tape taking money to pass legislation, was the only MEP who did not resign after the scandal. And at the current rate of growth, the trade with the rest of the Community might get some balance after 2019- until then Romania is a net importer. An op-ed of mine called “Futility of Joining the EU” got 50,000 likes on Facebook in a few hours last November. People do not blame the EU, but they blame their leaders, and for good reason, for wasting a historic opportunity.

But why boycott the vote? How would this help? I was still arguing, my eyes on the clock as the Champions League Final was approaching when I knew everyone would switch the channel, that this will be the strongest Parliament still on record. That issues everybody is concerned with, from Ukraine to fracking (hydraulic fracturing) are far more likely to be decided in Brussels than Bucharest. That the elections for European parliament might not always be, if people like Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen win (they did). At the gas station on the way back home people then asked me how would they even know who in Brussels favors fracking and who is against. They had no idea. In one month of domestic political bickering otherwise known as an ‘electoral campaign’ nobody had told them anything and since they work all day long, they don’t have time to search on the Internet.

All over ‘new’ Europe voters, even in capitals, do not know what these elections were about. This is why only 17% of Slovaks came out to vote (Romanians actually outdid themselves with over 30% turning out this time). People have absolutely no idea:

  • What is decided in their capitals and what in Brussels;
  • What is the position of the European parties on major issues;
  • How their national parties position themselves on issues compared to their EU party family.

In my experience as a pollster, I frequently used a question called “subjective competence” where I asked people: Do you know enough on voters and candidates to make an informed choice? This question is the best predictor of turnout. People do not come out to vote in EU elections in the East because they don’t know the issues and the candidates and they are aware of their ignorance. Their leaders and media failed in informing them during their national disputes and scattered efforts such as mine were too disparate to matter.

According to the Eurobarometer, Eastern Europeans, unlike their Western counterparts, continue to trust EU institutions more than they trust their national politicians. But as national politicians are the ones claiming votes on behalf of the EU, confusion and skepticism reign supreme. And this is how the continent’s perhaps last untapped reserve of Euro-enthusiasts fall out of Europe’s politics.

The Real Fight in Ukraine

by Niklas Kossow

Since Victor Yanukovich fled Ukraine in February, the situation in the country has become more and more tense. After a highly disputed referendum, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and pro-Russian separatists have taken over the control of several cities in the east of the country. Ahead of the presidential elections on 25 May heavy fighting in the south and the east has lead observers to portray Ukraine as being on the brink of civil war. While the fighting between separatists and the interim government is on going, Ukrainian civil society is continuing an fight of its own: the fight for political reforms and against corruption.

Svitlana Zalishchuk is coordinating a group of the most important reform-orientated civil society groups in Ukraine. For her reforms are part of the “dialogue that has to be proposed to the Southern and Eastern regions”. While the protests on Kiev’s Maidan square were triggered by the refusal of the Ukrainian government to sign the negotiated association agreement with the EU, they soon were aimed against a corrupt political system which is not accountable to its own people. The Maidan movement was a broad coalition of activists, representatives of civil society organisations and ordinary citizens. Many of the actors were already involved in the Orange Revolution. Ten years on they have learned from previous mistakes and want to achieve genuine change of the political system.

Following the regime change in February 2014, Ukraine finds itself at a critical juncture. A broad coalition of civil society actors has come together to push forward a “Reanimation Reform Package”. Anti-corruption reforms are a particular focus of the initiative. Since the coalition formed in February, their work has been both ambitious and impressive. They currently unite more than 170 individuals and organisations active in Ukraine. With expert groups, media campaigning and lobbying they put forward, for instance, reforms a law on access to information, a crucial tool in fighting corruption. They assembled a cross-party group of 24 members of parliament who meet regularly to discuss the possibility for reforms and pledged to lobby their parliamentary groups. With their reform initiative civil society leaders want to use this window of opportunity to push through the systemic changes needed to overcome corruption that defined Ukrainian politics since its independence.

Money laundering and corruption loopholes were a trademark of the former regime. “The system changes only if these key corruption loopholes are closed” says Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Kiev-based “Anti-Corruption Action Center” (AntAC). While the organisation lobbies for reforms within Ukraine, they are also active in getting the support of governments abroad to recover assets that were shifted abroad by corrupt officials and by the members of the Yanukovich regime. Ukrainian civil society organisations and investigative journalists try to track this money. They call for international governments to freeze accounts of and help them in the legal procedures to repatriate assets. AntAC estimates that around US$100 billion were shifted abroad by the Yanukovich regime. It pushes for the recovered money to be invested in charitable funds used for long term investments and reconstruction to reach visible outcomes in the fight against corruption.

International governments and organisations can make a difference by supporting Ukrainian civil society. Their pressure helps to implement reforms. Even more important though is the support of the Ukrainian people. Svitlana Zalishchuk highlights the difficulty to mobilise Ukrainian citizens and the need for civil society to “learn how to connect to the people”. Popular support is a problem and needed, just as much as political support. While Yanukovich has gone, the majority of the political elite has stayed and many of them have a track record of corruption. Consensus and political support consensus for anti-corruption reforms is hence hard to reach. While laws are passed, compliance is not always assured.

The presidential elections on 25 May are a crucial step in the reform process. For Daria Kaleniuk hopes that a legitimate president would be able to call for parliamentary elections which could take place this autumn. Activists are already forming new parties, which aim to promote accountability and which may end up in parliament. The “Reanimation Reform Package” coalition hopes that a newly legitimised parliament will help to implement the reform process and make politics in Ukraine more accountable. Ukrainian civil society activists are determined to continue their fight for one of the principle aims of the Maidan movement: a transparent and accountable government.

Ultimately, successfully implementing reforms may also be the key to solving the conflict in the south and east of Ukraine. Daria Kaleniuk hopes that if Ukraine becomes a country in which “human rights are protected, where you can have actual jobs with a decent salary that allows you to live in dignity and not to take or give bribes, this will be a powerful argument to those in the South and East of Ukraine to stay in the country.” While the fights in Eastern Ukraine are continuing, it is important that the presidential elections are able to take place. “Only when there is a new, legitimate government it will be possible to have systemic reforms.”

While peace in Ukraine and the unity of the country seem fragile, the fight for reforms and against corruption might be more crucial than most people realise.

Niklas Kossow will graduate from the Hertie School of Governance Master of Public Policy programme at the end of May 2014.

New Grassroots Anti-corruption Revolutions Discussed at NED

National Endowment for Democracy hosted Alina Mungiu-Pippidi for a talk in Washington, DC where she argued that the demand for good governance erupting in grassroots movements in Egypt, India, Ukraine, Turkey and Brazil should be seen as a second phase of transition to democracy as global constituencies are no longer satisfied with elections alone and demand more equality of treatment from governments everywhere.

Mungiu-Pippidi shared data from the research project ANTICORRP showing that favoritism of governments in relation to citizens is the number one cause of high perceptions of corruption and criticized the global corruption movement for neglecting this phenomenon. She also expressed skepticism towards top down anti-corruption reforms, arguing that in countries where corruption is widespread the spoliation of public resources could be described as a pyramid, with people on top spoiling the most. She furthermore encouraged those who care about promoting democracy to invest in structuring this growing demand for new government.

Mungiu-Pippidi concluded her presentation by describing three situations in which such countries may find themselves, and corresponding policy approaches:

  • The first situation requires the presence of a strong and autonomous civil society. In this situation, those who lose from corruption are strong and organized enough to take action. They are the main drivers of change, and as an approach, anti-corruption strategies should be aimed at helping them achieve their goals.
  • The second situation is where those who lose from corruption are not strong and organized enough to take action. Instead of directly pursuing anti-corruption strategies, the recommended approach is to develop civil society capacity to be autonomous in the future.
  • The third situation is one in which there are no significant domestic losers meaning that no corresponding anti-corruption strategy is needed except in terms of aid distribution.

The new data is from an upcoming ANTICORRP report, an extensive quantitative analysis of causes of achievement and stagnation in the global fight against corruption. The report also argues that particularly in countries where corruption is the norm, top-down reforms are ineffective.

Misconceptions Distort Views of the Crisis in Crimea

by: Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

1. Russia wants Crimea. For this reason, it invaded and manipulated the referendum.

This strikes me as false. About ten years ago when I put together indicators for the UNDP to warn of a potential crisis in Crimea, the ingredients of the current situation were already present: local authorities who preferred Russia to the Ukrainian Orange government, Kiev’s weak influence over the peninsula, strange paramilitaries registered as NGOs and training in shooting (referred to as the “Cossacks”, whom I had seen thirteen years before in the Transnistrian war), and a Russian-speaking population of recent settlers who saw Russia as their protector and who feared Crimean Tatar’s land claims (restitution demands for property confiscated when they were deported by Stalin).

Local authorities, whom I interviewed at the time, expressed displeasure that Russia was unwilling to have them join. Russia did not want them because they were far more useful as a threat should Ukraine go astray, a potential Transnistria or South Ossetia. Meanwhile, Russian oligarchs bought the best real estate and tourists flooded the coast. They thronged to the site of Vladimir the Great’s baptism at Chersonesos (an old Byzantine city, now merely a Sevastopol suburb), which in the nineteenth century had been canonized as a cathedral of the nation, thus indoctrinating people to the core with the idea that this is the cradle of all Russian orthodoxy. From a nearby hill one could admire the Russian navy at anchor, bearing odd resemblance to the Second World War movies we watched on Russian TV before 1989, but with no formidable rivals in sight.

Russia already held Crimea in all but name. It just needed a call to provoke the referendum, which could also have been stalled with another call – only the second has never been made.  Russia does not want Crimea, or Kharkov or Donetsk. Russia simply wants Ukraine, so it had to prevent it from joining  the EU, the same way it wanted to prevent Armenia in 2013 (and succeeded) and Moldova and Georgia (and so far failed).

2. We do not change borders in Europe

While the discourse against changing borders is perfectly legitimate, it is not factually correct to say that borders do not change in Europe or that altering borders is not accepted. In the course of EU enlargement borders did change dramatically. Slovenia and Croatia, two secessionist countries recognized by Germany, were allowed to pursue their course without being dragged down by the Milosevic government in Belgrade. Kosovo was then recognized despite formal Serbian opposition, which allowed both Kosovo and Serbia to move on. With Serbia now negotiating to join the EU, the Balkans are finally reaching equilibrium. Were Scotland to secede from the UK at the end of this summer, we would probably look for a legal solution to keep it in the EU, but we would definitely recognize it. And Scotland’s borders were not designed by Stalin and Khrushchev as are Moldova’s, Georgia’s and Ukraine’s.

Presuming that the EU would ever enlarge into Stalin’s borders is preposterous. Nobody would suggest bringing in these reluctant regions, inhabited to a great extent by the Red Army and KGB pensioners, such as Transnistria or Crimea. These borders were artificially created so to accommodate a bomb. It might prove better to detonate the bombs than letting them explode at their will. Why keep entire countries hostage due to them? The discourse that “territorial integrity” is the most important value to protect here is wrong. What matters is the will of people to determine their future themselves.

Ukrainians in major cities want to join Europe. Crimeans want to be part of Russia. Rather than blocking one or the other, we should concede that Ukraine will never join the EU with Crimea included – or Moldova with Transnistria. Plans to unify them will lead nowhere and should be replaced with backup plans to help them separate peacefully if this is what they want. Can we discuss in earnest during the next European Parliament elections where the Eastern border should stop?

3. This is a conflict of interests between East and West, between Russia and Europe

While the conflict may be escalating because of the way Mr. Putin thinks (it is hard to dance tango with someone who thinks you are doing the box step), this is, however, not how the conflict started. As Europeans, we have never wanted Ukraine to join the EU.  We are aware of the artificial borders of this state, which is forcing the cohabitation of two different nations, a new Ukrainian one (which turned out to be quite impressive) and an old Soviet one (widespread across much of the former Soviet space). Ukraine is a also a failed transition by many accounts: It is a crony capitalist state if ever there was one, with corruption lines cutting across pro-Russian-Western camps there. The attractive democratic path does not have clear parties to represent it yet – and its proponents know that. The EU has not been good at curbing crony capitalism and democracy. Just look how little Greece, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria have evolved since joining.  Thus, Ukraine has always been the bridge too far.

But neither can we stand idle forever and listen to the Russian doctrine of legitimate domination in their neighboring countries. Their bullying of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and now Ukraine has gone too far. This is a conflict between democracy and the right of people to decide wherever they want their countries to go. Between our “empire”, reluctant to expand and Russia’s invasive behavior, our old enlargement policy has us paralyzed. The time has now come to defend those countries against Russia by other means, to convey the clear single message that we do have foreign policy tools other than enlargement, and that these countries can have Western (EU and US) protection even if they are not, and may never be, EU members. These countries want Europe, not the other way around. And if Russia wants them it had better developed an attractive model as the EU has done. By this, I mean one that would attract more than Belarus.

Meanwhile the situation has never been as dangerous since the aborted coup d’etat in Moscow in summer 1991. How did we win that one? The people of Moscow won it for us, and the incompetence of putschists. Let us at least show more dignity than we did then, when some EU member countries rushed to recognize the generals.

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi is Professor of Democracy Studies at the Hertie School and chairs the European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State Building Research. She consulted for UNDP’s early warning system in Crimea and the World Bank in the Caucasus. Her research interests include Europeanization, state building, and institutional transformation.

This piece previously appeared on the Hertie School of Governance’s European Elections Blog: “Decision 2014”:  http://www.hertie-school.org/blog/misconceptions-distort-views-ukrainian-crisis-crimea/

ERCAS Hosts Berlin ECFR Scorecard Launch

ERCAS and the Hertie School of Governance hosted the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) for the Berlin launch of the 2014 edition of their annual European foreign policy scorecard. ERCAS Director Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi introduced the event by discussing inadequate European maneuvering vis-à-vis Ukraine.

Professor Mungiu-Pippidi evoked the work of ERCAS with Ukrainian civil society coalition CHESNO and the recurrent question on the lips of young anti-corruption activists there: how many Orange revolutions does it take to get to the EU? “We have to consider what we can offer people who buy into the European normative discourse,” she said. “Nothing is more dangerous than to give the go ahead to people when you know there is no cavalry to back them up, and real politik will decide in the end. You can have one Orange revolution per week then and it’s still insufficient.”

The scorecard grades European foreign policy performance in 66 different areas: relations with the US, China, Russia, Wider Europe, Middle East/North Africa, as well as European performance in crisis management and multilateral institutions. Individual countries are also singled out as “leaders” or “slackers” depending on whether or not they help or hinder Europe’s overall interests. One impetus for starting the scorecard was to prompt a wider discussion about European foreign policy, beyond usual policy circles, and to track progress after the Lisbon treaty, however, as editorial director Hans Kundani noted, the “leaders” and “slackers” section provokes more debate than the rest of the scorecard.

On balance how effective was European foreign policy in 2013? ECFR gives Europe a B- average for relations with most regions, except Russia and claims “Foreign policy is back on the agenda.”  ECFR highlighted foreign policy successes last year in Iran and Kosovo as well as relative failures in Syria and worsening relations with Russia, and ranked France and the UK amongst the “leaders” and Germany and Greece amongst the “slackers.”

Much of the discussion in Berlin focused on Germany’s foreign policy role in the Ukraine and why the country found itself this year atop the list of “slackers”. The scorecard noted the federal elections last year as well as the fact that Germany undermined European attempts to reduce dependence on Russian oil as key reasons why it failed to impress this year.

To read more about the ECFR scorecard or do download a copy, please click here: http://www.ecfr.eu/scorecard/2014

How the EU Can and Should Help Ukrainian Civil Society

John Stuart Mill once remarked that inaction can cause as much harm as action, and in either instance the perpetrator is justifiably accountable. Reflecting on the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, his words aptly describe the impact of a complete lack of action on the part of the EU with regards to the Euromaidan protests. The demonstrations, which started in November of last year, began as a very peaceful public display of will for closer European integration.

Although Ukrainian civil society has been actively protesting for almost three months, Ukrainian political elites have chosen to ignore the protestors and instead opted last week for making the very act of protesting virtually illegal. Unauthorized tents, wearing a helmet at a protest, independent media activities, group violation of public order, collecting information about a judge or police officer and possibly just using the internet, depending on who you are of course, are now offenses punishable by fine or imprisonment. (An ERCAS partner organisation, CHESNO has published an infographic explaining the new regulations.)

In response, the once peaceful demonstrations have turned ugly, with protestors and riot police clashing violently, resulting in the first Euromaidan deaths. The US response was decisive, with the Embassy issuing visa bans for selected authorities and those involved in violence against protesters. Canada has also publicly stated it will not rule out sanctions. The World Economic Forum has also recently rescinded an invitation it had extended to Ukraine’s Prime Minister Azarov to speak.

What should the EU do to help Ukrainian civil society?

Since reports of violence toward protestors first emerged in December, however, the EU has responded with statements condemning the violence, but failed to take more decisive legislative action. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently stated that sanctions “are not the order of the day” but did recall the Ukrainian ambassador after the recent wave of violence. As the protests become more and more violent, calls by civil society groups for Europe to take a more active and influential role by enacting targeted sanctions (visa bans and freezing assets) against Ukrainian leaders is now reaching fever-pitch.

Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovich and his son Alexander are both accused by civil society of squirrelling away ill-begotten funds in overseas bank accounts. President Yanucovich’s assets have ballooned since taking office, thanks to several mysterious and lucrative real-estate deals, and Alexander’s assets have swelled from around $7 million to a staggering $510 million since his father was elected.

The Anti-Corruption Action Centre, a prominent Ukrainian civil society group, started a separate website to amplify the cause and petition European, EU and US leaders. At yanukovich.info, the group states:

“We believe that the authoritarian regime of President Viktor Yanukovich has been fueled by proceeds of corruption laundered via the international financial system through the network of shell-companies and professional intermediaries.”

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed all members of the parliament who voted for repressive laws and all those involved in violence could become the subject of such targeted measures. A special initiative, For Accountability, includes updated lists of people involved in the repression of peaceful protests, the violation of human rights, or the criminalisation of power in Ukraine.

In both the US and the EU, legal framework for seizing assets is already in place; all that is required now is the political will to use it. Financial institutions are in fact required to review the source of assets for Politically Exposed People, and freeze accounts if the source is illegal.

There is also a precedent for such action: the EU blacklisted 600 of Slobodan Milosevic’s supporters, including his wife and Swiss banks froze 57 million pounds in assets.  More recently, the EU issued travel bans for individuals responsible for violence against Belarusian civil society.

The EU could also provide for an immediate institutional response.  According to Jim Greene, Ukraine expert and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Statecraft (UK), the EU could ‘appoint somebody to investigate/coordinate responses to the nexus between the criminalisation of power in Ukraine and EU jurisdictions’.

Although many argue that the use of sanctions might be counter-productive, this is not true in every case, and may not be true for the Ukraine. Domestic pressure from Ukrainian society appears to be quite strong in support of targeted sanctions, and clientelistic networks that sustain the regime might fall apart once affected by such targeted measures. Above all, it is a good opportunity for the EU to show that it is capable of protecting its values inside its territory before the cost of inaction becomes even higher.