How will corruption evolve in 2024?

REVIEWING THE PAST TO FORECAST THE FUTURE

Every year on December 9 the world celebrates International Anticorruption Day. This is the annual moment to review the state of global corruption, as well as the best opportunity to reflect on the poverty of our review tools. It has always been a challenge to measure corruption, but to measure corruption across time is the ultimate challenge. Another year of struggle against corruption is coming to a pass. Are we nearer to the target? Has any country graduated to good governance, in the ‘green’ area of the upper third of the global ranking? Has any country already in that area experienced some backsliding? Are some countries closer to reaping the benefits of many years of reforms or, on the contrary, does the world risk losing more countries to state capture?

As perception indicators are not optimal for assessing change from one year to another, ERCAS devised a methodology to both capture change – and lack of it- and explain it. A snapshot for 2023 can be found as the Index of Public Integrity (IPI), based on scientifically validated indicators, which proxy the causes (enablers and disablers) of corruption. Then, as indicators always have a certain time lag, the trend analysis is completed with an analysis of recent facts. All the data can be found on www.corruptionrisk.org. Except for the countries presented in the front table, all the others are forecast to be stationary. The six indicators used for the IPI 2023 are:

 

Administrative transparency De facto transparency of public contracts, business register, land cadaster and auditor general reports, as reported step by step and link by link in the T-index.
Online services The extent to which governments offer online services, as featured in the UN Survey. (Replaced Administrative burden based on the World Bank Doing Business)
Budget transparency The extent to which budget proposals and previous-year expenditures are and have been made public, using a fraction of the Open Budget Index survey.
Judicial independence The extent to which the judiciary is autonomous from private interest (including by government officials) as in the Global Competitiveness Report survey by the World Economic Forum
(Digital citizenship)
E-citizenship
Household broadband subscriptions and Facebook users per country measure the capacity of civil society
Freedom of the press Yearly indicator including economic and physical pressure on media

 

As Facebook users’ data, which is a component of the e-citizens, changes coverage across years, we use only Internet household connections to measure e-citizens for the forecast. As administrative transparency is a new indicator, with direct observations of every country’s online transparency, it is also not included in the forecast trends monitoring (just the IPI), but as an additional weight step. The step-by-step methodology can be read here.

Our IPI and forecast methodology thus provide three pictures:

1.   A snapshot- How the world is in the 2022-2023 IPI and why. Users can read the IPI by country and compare it against its region and income group on every component.

2.   A motion picture based on a time series- how countries changed over the past ten years and where they would likely be next year.

3.   A diagnosis – Open the forecast country page to see the individual trends, diagnosis and explicit legend to understand where the country is on corruption risk, what it could do to improve, and where it will be next year.

 

 

THE ANALYSIS

  • Every year, state capture is subverted by the silent but unstoppable rise of global digital citizenship, which signifies aggregate demand for good governance, understood as fair and equal treatment by a government for its subjects, with no privileged groups or citizens, enjoying a different status due to connections to the government — or bribes. Almost in every country of the world, the number of e-citizens is on the rise.
  • Corruption fights back, even against the most successful judicial crackdowns, with former successful countries losing battles against impunity in Latin America, Africa and the Balkans. Anti-privilege reforms promoting ethical universalism, and not high-profile trials, thus offer the most sustainable path to good governance, as success stories prove.
  • An unprecedented number of insurgencies, coups and wars are taking state capture to the next violent stage and threaten what have been incipient promising trends in  have also been under threat but give signs of resilience and recovery.
  • As Estonia moved up and the United States down, Estonia is now ahead of the United States as number 5 in the IPI ranking (1-10, with 10 best integrity in the IPI), after Denmark, Norway, Finland and New Zealand, which lead the top.
  • Digital trends (Internet and social media connected citizens, online services) are all steadily rising, while political indicators (judicial independence, freedom of the press) are doing badly in most of the world and worsening. The political trends cancel out the positive tech trends, and growing demand in the form of civil society combined with increased repression of the press and civil society is likely to lead to much instability wherever civil society reaches some critical mass – for instance, in the capital cities. The fall of captors in Sri Lanka may be followed by many others, but the success of the revolutionary path to good governance depends on the degree of institutionalization of political alternatives to follow. Not many political coalitions for good governance, unified by a single program on eliminating privilege and increasing transparency, exist around the world. If the good political society does not associate with a clear purposive movement, populists will remain what they have been for a while now – the chief political winners due to discontent with corruption.
  • Unless the United States solves its leadership integrity problems and is back convincingly as the needed global anticorruption coalition leader, global standards will sink even lower in 2024, and global anticorruption will become just another tool of a new cold war, with accusations of political instrumentalization and double standards flourishing. A phase of global moral anarchy with few successful transformations might follow as countries increasingly realign on grounds other than public integrity reputation.

 

More on www.corruptionrisk.org

Direct queries to professors Alina Mungiu-Pippidi and Michael Johnston at mungiu-pippidi@againstcorruption.eu

 

Berlin-Roma-Bucharest, December 2023

 

European public accountability trends now updated!

The European Union is the absolute achiever on standards and benchmarks. Thousands exist and are strictly guarded by various enforcement agencies: some inspired anecdotes were furiously disputed over the Brexit divorce. Less spoken about are EU standards on public accountability, in spite of the bloc now having a Rule of Law (ROL) Report on the member states and monitoring processes for accession countries. There is a very simple reason for this: they do not exist as such. While we uphold a Europe that embraces ideals of rule of law and free of corruption as ideals for member states and aspiring countries, we do not actually have a standard way of achieving those, or clear European benchmarks. Finland and Denmark are quite unregulated on public accountability but extraordinarily transparent, and they lead in all good governance charts. Hungary and Poland have been backsliding on both rule of law and democracy but their legal arrangements are quite thick. In some areas, at least.

To understand how Europeans succeed in having transparent and accountable governments ERCAS has created as part of the EU-funded project DIGIWHIST a repository of legal data. We organized them as tools, described in detail as to coverage and instruments, and quantified – assigned a score for each extra provision, resulting in a higher score for countries with more comprehensive regulation. This is Europam.eu, an exceptional legal repository created in 2017. Today we update it at the level of 2020 data. You can find out there how countries are doing on freedom of information, oversight of assets and conflicts of interest of officials, party funding, and public procurement, as well compare each country against the rest of Europe and understand what is the mechanism which enables public accountability – or not.

Despite unprecedented discussion on rule of law in the European space and neighborhood, we found few changes since 2017. All the data is available at Europam.eu, and we present here only two chapters.

 

On public procurement, the average remained roughly the same, from 63 points in 2017 to 62 points in 2020 (from a total of 100), but more jurisdictions declined than improved.

  • Previous best scorers Slovakia (2020: #1) and Hungary (2020: #5) remained in the top 5, but Czechia dropped 5 positions. Romania (2020: #2), Malta (2020: #3) and Bulgaria (2020: #4) complete the top 5;
  • Out of the 3 previous lowest scorers, only the Netherlands (2020: #32) remained in the bottom 5. Poland was the worst jurisdiction, having lost a few points. Other countries at the bottom – Georgia (2020: #34), Sweden (2020: #33), and Iceland (2020: #31) – did not see real variation from their previous points (around the 50 points-mark), which suggests that other countries doing better, rather than them doing worse, is the cause of their poorer performance;
  • Countries that declined: Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Serbia, Sweden, and the European Union as a whole – 14/35 jurisdictions;
  • Countries that improved: Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and the UK – 11/35 jurisdictions;
  • Countries that remained roughly the same: Armenia, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Switzerland – 10/35 jurisdictions.

 

On conflict of interest, the average improved slightly, from 40 points in 2017 to 44 points in 2020, and more jurisdictions improved than declined. This is good news for GRECO, which tirelessly promotes COI further restrictions in many countries.

  • Previous best scorers remained at the top – namely Latvia (2020: #3), Croatia (2020: #4), and Slovenia (2020: #5) – with Georgia improving significantly to get to the first spot and Serbia improving slightly (2020: #2);
  • Previous lowest scorers also remained at the bottom – namely Denmark (2020: #33) and the Netherlands (2020: #32) – with Finland (2020: #34) dropping significantly to get to the second-worst position and Belgium decreasing a few points to be the worst jurisdiction;
  • Countries that declined: Armenia, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, and Switzerland – 11/35 jurisdictions;
  • Countries that improved: Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, and the European Union as a whole – 16/35 jurisdictions;
  • Countries that remained roughly the same: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Latvia, Slovenia, and the UK – 8/35 jurisdictions.

 

To those who are surprised by these figures we just remind that laws and practices are poorly correlated when rule of law and corruption are concerned. Clearly, there is a great difference between high honesty countries and low honesty countries, with the latter regulating far more. But does more regulation increase public integrity, and which regulation? That is what we study next, and we invite you also to use the freely available Europam for your own analyses.

The EU Rule of Law Report: Unresolved Questions and a Proposal

The EU has chastised member states who do not adhere to its professed values. However, the new report about the rule of law falls short in providing the objective basis to withhold funding to those who defy democracy, a just goal still lacking the proper means. EU funds should be cut on direct and easier to prove criteria related to their poor governance, as shown in the EU Single Market procurement scoreboard. Recovery funds should not go to the political clienteles of government parties trespassing on rule of law, but to the broader constituencies of citizens and businesses in every member state.

 

The European Commission (EC) recently released a communication titled “2020 Rule of Law Report: The rule of law situation in the European Union”. The concept has never passed the test of a feasibility study and President Ursula von der Leyen has not even promised it as part of her original program. It was one of the pledges she had to make in exchange for political support during the hearings for her presidency. The report has been widely expected to offer a basis for the sanctioning of democratic backsliders such as Hungary and Poland. EC communications, however, have no binding power and can serve only to name and shame. The new report can therefore only bring some added value if its contents offer better arguments than those already in circulation. In fact, many are circulating already, as the European Parliament has not been idle and in the last two years alone interpellated Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Malta. Hungary and Poland are also fighting an Article 7 procedure. The European Justice Court is also involved and has already issued the first rulings on such problem countries.

The report covers four areas: the justice system, the anti-corruption framework, media freedom, and other institutional checks and balances. The Commission adopted the Council of Europe’s multifold definition of rule of law, but the report exceeds it by including media. This was actually a good decision, as freedom of the media has been declining in nearly all EU countries (except Romania, where it was never very high to start with) over the last decade, and media is an essential component for the control of corruption, aside from its more general role in a democracy (Brunetti and Weder 2001). The country chapters are based upon contributions from the member states and a variety of already available, mostly European sources. The countries are not ranked on any dimension – this would have been impossible, given both the qualitative methodology used and the reticence of member states to any ranking.

The patient readers of the whole report will not find anything new. But in the event that a second edition will ever follow – and the exercise is not discontinued like its predecessor, an anti-corruption report was—a few questions are important to address and eventually debate. And at least one clearer alternative emerges if indeed there is the political will to tie EU funds on rule of law.

 

  1. Country Diagnosis Missing

Why is there not one fact-based problem statement for each country, stating clearly whether there is a problem with rule of law and if so, what does it consist of? Instead the report offers snapshots of judicial reforms in every country. The link between problems they were meant to address and these reforms is either missing or presumed. Some underlying assumption seems to exist that the organization of the judiciary is the source of its independence from government and private interests. Is that is the case, this goes against academic evidence, which shows on the basis of the same data that EC uses (Council of Europe CEPEJ) the contrary (Gutman and Voigt 2017). The independence of the judiciary does not result from specific constitutional arrangements, or the countries with the best such arrangements would have the best and most independent judiciaries. It stems from the historically developed power balance in every given country. The neglect of this simple, although counter-intuitive truth leads the reader confused about the relevance of the reforms presented to strengthen the rule of law, from digitalization in Belgium to reshuffling of the judiciary in Malta. Furthermore, why are bureaucratic mechanisms which did not deliver measurable improvements in the past decade (like the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism) advanced for the next? Is it not significant that Bulgaria—a country being assessed under the mechanism, which proposed a year ago for it to be lifted—was recently reprimanded by the European parliament?

 

  1. Corruption Levels Explain Anticorruption, Not the Other Way Around

Why is the corruption section defined as “anti-corruption framework”? An anti-corruption framework makes sense only in relation to a given country’s corruption problems. Or is everybody supposed to have a similar framework regardless of their individual problems? If a relation existed between the density of regulation on anti-corruption and a reduction of corruption, this would be more understandable. But again, the reality is exactly the opposite: the most successful national integrity frameworks in the EU (and the world) are not the most regulated, but the other way around. Hungary has far more extensive public accountability mechanisms than Finland. Yet still, it is Finland that better manages to control abuse of office for undue profit (see Figures 1,2 below). Keeping track of all changes in regulation certainly has a value in itself, but it cannot replace a sound diagnosis of each problem and a matching policy solution, relevant to the context of every country. The report counts the existence of national anti-corruption strategies as progress, instead of checking real developments. Such an approach has been already pioneered in accession and EU-neighborhood countries, which have all come to have five-year anti-corruption plans (see Moldova, Montenegro and other “champions”). Yet the few successful countries of the last three decades–-the likes of Estonia under its former prime minister Mart Laar, and Georgia under its former president Mikhail Saakashvili—evolved due to reform packages very different from such plans.

Figures 1-3. Poland and Hungary public accountability regulation surpasses Finland on every count but transparency (Source: www.europam.eu)

 

  1. The Report Does Not Cover the EU’s Cross-Border Problems

Does not this piecemeal, country-by-country approach by the Commission somewhat underscore the EU’s severe cross-border problems, which have showed the vulnerability of European common rule of law and public finance to organized crime, corruption and money-laundering? And is it not the role of EU institutions primarily to address such cross-border problems, which end up neglected because they require coordination across member states? There is very little in the report on the fundamental threats to European banks from organized crime and corruption, for instance.

 

  1. There Is Little on Transparency

Why is transparency in general, despite being shown to be one of the most effective deterrents of abuse of power and corruption, so marginal in the report? Transparency is easy to monitor and to fix, and several initiatives in Europe monitor transparency in public procurement, spending, financial and banking operations, and so forth. It is the lack of transparency that hostile powers like Russia and others use to launder their money in EU banks and pose veritable security threats. Is it really a twenty-first century strategy to rely on the under-powered European Public Prosecutor’s office, which would anyway act well after the crime is produced and even investigated administratively (by the European Anti-Fraud office) for issues such as VAT evasion? Only full digitalization and inter-connectivity of EU data on financial transactions and public procurement will allow the prevention of such problems—and some instruments exist already. But why would any progress be made if the plan is that a massive problem will be addressed by a few lengthy prosecutions after the fact?

 

  1. The Report Uses Vague and Imprecise Data

Why is the report so reliant on subjective data based on perceptions, such as Eurobarometer surveys [1] with leading questions (such as the rule of law is important, corruption is intolerable, etc.) and the Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International? The Eurobarometer surveys on rule of law and corruption are not panels using the same respondents to allow sound comparison in time—that would probably make them even more expensive than they already are. Academics have long proven that CPI, an average of expert perceptions, is not a proper tool to be used to measure corruption across years. If these surveys miss a measurement or lack a clear fact-based diagnosis of the causes of a particular problem, what can be monitored instead to track progress? Citizens’ perceptions, or the amount of regulation, despite their poor correlation with problems? Compliance with EU regulation and its implementation must be monitored, of course. But they cannot replace measuring the problems directly (judicial independence, lack of transparency, and corruption) to assess whether reforms manage to reduce them or not.

 

  1. There Is Little on Public Procurement

Why is the area most related to EU funds, public procurement, so under-represented in the report? After all, if the goal is to sanction countries by cutting their EU funds, surely the case will be made easier (in the courts as well) if a more direct link were presented between funds and misbehavior? An example are the red flag procurement indicators (such as lack of open call for tenders or single bidding) from the European Single Market scoreboard, where several poor performers openly breech EU policy targets. Yet such indicators are barely mentioned despite data repositories now tracing corruption in procurement in the European Union in real time. For instance, Poland has been leading for years in non-competitive bidding at very high proportions, which could have offered an indication that all was not well there. Similarly, research on procurement has showed Hungarian manipulation of EU funds years before OLAF opened an investigation into Viktor Orban, so such fact-based indicators do exist and deliver.

Figure 4. A Clear Picture of Offenders in EU’s Procurement Scoreboard

 

  1. aps and Biases

Why are major country facts, even for the previous year, simply missing from the report, and what methodology determined what is included and what is excluded? Is not the case of the Airbus corruption, for instance (a footnote in the France country report on the financial settlement mechanism) showing that rule of law was clearly imperfect if such practices were systematic over decades (and leaders above the law)? No word on the fact that the U.S. Foreign Corruption Practice Act seems to be behind the most important investigations into European companies—and not OECD anti-bribery convention? Surely this deserves an analytic paragraph, as it touches also on compliance and implementation, keywords of the rule of law. How can the report on Germany miss the Wirecard scandal entirely? There is now an investigation by the German parliament looking at the regulators’ conflict of interest and their failure to address the problem in time (instead, they acted against the Financial Times whistleblowers, relevant to press freedom, too). How can the report on Romania praise both the National Integrity Agency and the Anti-corruption Directorate, and not remark that the latter charged the head of the former with corruption, only for a court to finally clear him?  Would it not be better to order a deep audit of this and several high-profile cases closed by the courts, before asking for more cases? Why is there no analysis of why the Commission recommended a year ago that MCV be suspended for Bulgaria and now it seems a problematic country again (given that nobody claims that its problems appeared last year, only the protests stepped up). Finally, although the list can be much longer, how can  Luxembourg’s judiciary be praised as top of Europe, when a prison sentence of a court there against the Luxleaks whistleblowers was part of the motivation for the EU regulation on whistleblowing?

 

In conclusion:

Although some critics complained that negative comments are spread across too many countries, it is commendable that the reports tries to cover all EU member states equally and not discriminate against a few countries. However, the lack of clarity and transparency of the criteria for including or excluding facts in the absence of a clear methodology has backfired, leading journalists to assign degrees of seriousness and make diagnoses themselves. This does not necessarily result in more objectivity or depth of understanding of either problems or potential solutions.

It is undeniable that European Union member states have been backsliding on rule of law and democracy, and that action should be taken. But do we have fresher and better evidence after this report than before? And apart from backsliding on democracy, don’t we also need more awareness of what seem to be older problems of corruption and impunity? The issues at companies such as Airbus and Wirecard, in addition to those at many banks, have long been in existence and have been ignored by regulators despite warnings. Effective action needs to be based on serious audits and fact-based research on problems by professionals, not on public opinion surveys: questions like the ones above need to raised and answered for the EU to effectively confront its rule of law problems. It may be that the infringement of rights and the control of media are in a different category of problems from corruption or the imperfect independence of the judiciary, needing different solutions. This must be discussed openly.

However, this does not mean deterring action. For urgent matters, why not connect the procurement scoreboard with the cut of EU funds? The same suspects will be targeted, but with clearer and less controversial evidence: benchmarks already exist and are clear. Recovery funds should not go to the political clienteles of government parties trespassing on rule of law, but to the broader SMEs and populations of every EU MS.

 

For more details on evidence-based rule of law tools, visit:

https://www.againstcorruption.eu/

www.opentender.eu

http://www.europam.eu

http://www.integrity-index.org

 

[1] See also Europe’s Burden, chapter 5.

 

— This article is a version of a Carnegie Europe comment published under Carnegie’s Reshaping European Democracy project: https://carnegieeurope.eu/2020/10/20/unresolved-questions-on-eu-rule-of-law-report-pub-82999

 

Finland

Finland does very well on determinants of control of corruption, enjoying an exceptional 10 on judicial independence and a near 10 on freedom of the press despite being under-regulated on conflict of interest, financial disclosures and party funding compared to the EU average. However, recent scandals showed that Finnish companies, even public ones, seeking to obtain contracts overseas can engage in bribing and that enforcement of general compliance to anti-bribery conventions abroad and sanction of such behavior once disclosed is rather poor.