Crony Capitalism in the European Union: Subjective or Objective?

Long before the Panama leaks, nearly three quarters of Europeans (73%) had already endorsed the belief that bribery and connections are the easiest way to obtain public services in their respective countries. Furthermore, pan-European surveys revealed that nearly 7 out of 10 Europeans agreed that corruption was part of the business culture in their country (66% of respondents) and that favoritism and corruption hampered business competition (68% of respondents). But are such perceptions accurate, or do they reflect the general pessimism in times of austerity, uncertainty and growing inequality? This paper uses survey data to deconstruct perceptions of corruption, but also as a premiere uses fact-based data from new research projects on corruption and procurement to understand how much is real and how much is noise in the growing public perception of crony capitalism in Europe. The paper finds that individual perceptions are not disconnected with reality. Although people whose self-ascription places them in the lower part of a status scale are more inclined to perceive generalized corruption, most of the variance at both national and individual level is explained by fact based variables, for instance the number of non-competitive tenders per country.

This paper will be published in a forthcoming edited volume with Oxford University Press. Please cite as Mungiu-Pippidi, M. and Kukutschka, R. M. B (2018). Can a Civilization know its own institutional decline? A Tale of Indicators. In H. Anheier, M. Haber, and M. Kayser (eds), Governance Indicators: Approaches, Progress, Promise. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Red tape, bribery and government favouritism: evidence from Europe

Red tape has long been identified as a major cause of corruption, hence deregulation was advocated as an effective anticorruption tool, an advice which many country followed. However, we lack robust systematic evidence on whether deregulation actually lowers corruption. This is partially due to the difficulty of defining what is good regulation, but also to the lack of theoretical clarity about which type of corruption regulations impact on and to the deficient measurement of different types of corruption. In order to address the latter two gaps, we differentiate petty corruption from government favouritism and propose novel measurement of the latter by developing two objective proxy measures of favouritism in public procurement: single bidding in competitive markets and a composite score of tendering ‘red flags’. Using publicly available official electronic records of over 2.5 million government contracts in 27 EU member states and two European Economic Area countries in 2009–2014, we directly operationalize a common definition of favouritism: unjustified restriction of access to public contracts to favour a certain bidder. Petty corruption is measured using business surveys while the extent of business regulation is measured by Doing Business expert assessment of precise regulatory costs. Using country-level panel regression analysis, we find that deregulation has a heterogeneous impact on both low and high level corruption. It is largely ineffective in tackling government favouritism, with business start-up deregulation even facilitating such corruption. Whereas deregulating the various channels through which governments and businesses interact (e.g. obtaining construction permits) often decreases the perception of bribery and petty corruption. Policy consequences are profound and point at a more targeted and context-dependent promotion of the deregulation agenda. Full public procurement database is available at