Greece has adopted many reforms, yet most of its citizens complain in the Eurobarometer that they are seriously affected by corruption in their daily lives. While the administrative burden has been somewhat reduced and transparency increased, judicial independence, in particular regarding corruption prosecution and top courts appointments has regressed. A long list of reforms agreed with the European Union meant to remove legal privileges and open access awaits implementation. The press needs more diverse ownership and civil society does not articulate sufficient demand for general interest public integrity.
Corruption has risen on the European agenda considerably from the last European elections and is
likely to play a prominent role in the 2019 campaign for European Parliament. But while pro-European
parties will advocate for a stronger Europe and populist parties might try to blame all corruption on Brussels
and mainstream parties, a deeper understanding on the linkage EU-national government in curbing
corruption becomes imperative. This paper uses the case of Greece to discuss the impact of Europe about
governance quality in EU Member States and asks if the new European elections find both Greece and
Brussels more prepared to deal with corruption. The conclusion is that EU driven reforms in Greece remain
scattered, fragmented, not locally “owned” or driven by any group whose interest good governance would
serve. Meanwhile, the groups opposing change are well articulated. Greece’s genuine good governance
congregation has yet to coalesce, and the 2019 European and legislative elections are a good opportunity,
especially if civil society would not allow parties to instrumentalize anticorruption but engage them to
promise the still missing good governance reforms during electoral campaign and then monitor them.
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
Following its severe economic crisis, Greece has experienced a significant fall in income and rising unemployment, and some reports indicate that corruption is also on the increase. In the last edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, released in 2012, Greece appeared as the most corrupt country in the European Union (EU) and ranked 94th out of 174 countries, plunging from the 80th place in 2010. It ranked below Colombia and Djibouti and just ahead of Moldova and India. In response to this trend, civil society has been reacting with increased engagement against corruption, not only through protests, but also with grassroots initiatives to raise awareness among the population and influence decision-makers to take measures against this phenomenon.
Kristina Tremonti’s is an example of such engagement. Last October she initiated a whistleblowing online platform entitled Edosa Fakelaki, which translates as “I gave an envelope”, in a reference to the ubiquitous envelopes with money that are used to pay bribes for public services in the country. The project is a replication of the initiative I Paid a Bribe, originated in India and already implemented in other countries, such as Kenya, Indonesia and Zimbabwe. Her motivation to start the project came from her personal experience with bribery in the healthcare system, as her grandfather was sent to the hospital with terminal cancer but only received treatment once her family paid a bribe of around 300 euros.
The website has already gathered over 1,600 anonymous stories of corruption amounting to more than five million euros in bribes. According to the reports, healthcare is the service where bribes most commonly take place (34%), followed by the issuing of driving permits (10%). In an interview, Ms. Tremonti declared: “Rooting out corruption will allow for social and economic recovery. I cannot stress this enough. We can make our country more fertile for growth by taking out the weeds which hinder it – and corruption is a weed.” She believes that, by generating concrete data on payment of bribes in Greece, the project could contribute to increase pressure on the government for taking more effective action to fight the problem.
Another similar online platform for reporting corruption has been created by Diomidis Spinellis. He is a former general secretary of information systems at the Greek Ministry of Finance, recognized for his anti-corruption advocacy. Spinellis quit his position, because he was not able to modernise data collection within an outdated tax system which the government was unwilling to reform.
These initiatives face some clear drawbacks related to the self-reporting of bribes, as bribes in certain sectors are less likely to be reported than in others. One case that illustrates this is the tax system. Corruption in this area is one of the biggest concerns in Greece. Moreover, tax evasion is known to be endemic and is one of the sectors in which the European Commission has requested the government to work on. However, there are relatively few cases of tax evasion reported on such whistleblowing online platforms. Statistics from Edosa Fakelaki show that only about 3% of posts refer to bribing tax officials. As Tremonti explains, “this is because bribing a tax inspector is only likely to happen when someone is trying to evade tax, making them unlikely to want to tell people about it, even anonymously. It is an obvious drawback of any self-reporting system”.
Spinellis also raised the issue of corrupt tax inspectors, which leads to prevalent tax evasion in Greece. He points out the disproportionate effect of this phenomenon on certain underprivileged social groups: “corruption seems to be targeting the most vulnerable members of society, so people who are less informed, who know less about their access to public services, who have less education, who don’t know the tax code. They get blackmailed by the people who are supposed to serve them and this is very sad.”
(The picture featured above is from verena.gr.)
Prominent Greek politician and former Deputy Prime Minister Theodore Pangalos sparked controversy in 2010, a few months after Greece’s first bailout package, after he claimed on television that everyone, not just politicians, were responsible for the squandering of public money. “We all ate together”, Pangalos said at the time. He then elaborated his statement in an interview on Skai TV saying that “every citizen is responsible in a democracy”, and that his remarks referred to widespread clientelism, tax evasion and corruption in the country.
Recently, Mr. Pangalos made the headlines again with an initiative to expose and fight corruption in Greece. The project consists of a website where people are invited to share their experiences of corruption. The webpage, named afters his famous statement “We all ate together” (“mazi-ta-fagame” in Greek), has already become extremely popular, with aproximately 100,000 page views per day, and has even crashed several times due to the overwhelming demand.
The website, which is currently available only in Greek, contains self-told stories of corruption experienced by individuals in their daily life. For example, a user reported being asked to pay between 20 and 30 euros to the owner of a coffee shop in order to avoid the queue at the nearby local tax office. Another citizen said that he had been asked for a bribe at a public hospital, so that his wife would give birth.
An article by Judy Dempsey on carnegieeurope.eu reflects on the meaning of the new website for Greek society, stating that “[f]or the first time ever, Greeks are posting how they have to pay bribes for almost every service”, and that the initiative “[i]s an astonishing account about what Greeks have tolerated over the decades”. Dempsey also highlights that Mr. Pangalos’s website is an important tool for fighting corruption, by providing a platform for communication and citizen initiative, and “[…] is helping to encourage a grass roots movement for citizens who, burdened by the austerity measures, are no longer prepared to remain silent over the bribery and corruption.”
As a result of mazi-ta-fagame.gr, Mr. Pangalos has published a book online with selected corruption anecdotes posted on the website. The book also comprises information on cases of gross mismanagement of public funds. As reported by The Pappas Post, a statement by Mr. Pangalos on the website highlights that he intends to “‘educate’ Greeks on the need to break away from the political clientelism”, and that the project’s goal “is to develop the book, with the participation and assistance of readers, using the methodology and tools of crowdsourcing”. New versions of the book shall be compiled and distributed with other stories later on.
The picture featured above is from the blog ‘Connecting Food to People’.
Transparency International’s national chapter in Greece has released their fifth National Survey on Corruption, conducted in November-December 2011. The results show an overall decrease in the average cost of bribes and changes in the population’s perception of some corruption acts.
Petty corruption in the public sector has slighly increased, with 7.4% of respondents reporting corruption incidents in contrast to 7.2% in 2010. In the private sector, reporting of petty corruption was lower, at 3.4% against 4% in 2010. Moreover, the average amount of bribes reported fell from €1,623 in 2010 to €1,406 in 2011.
Respondents ranked hospitals, tax authorities and offices in charge of construction licenses at the top of the list of petty corruption in public services. Another interesting result of the new survey was that, for the first time, respondents considered the non-issuance of receipts for transactions as a corruption incident. Resistance to corruption also appears to have increased, with about 25% of respondents declaring to have refused to pay a bribe in the public sector, and almost 22% in the private sector.
Transparency International has also recently released a new National Integrity System assessment for Greece. An interactive tool with the results and the full report are available at transparency.org.
For additional information read the press release “Petty corruption under crisis” on transparency.org. The picture featured above is from fcpablog.com.