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EU: OSI Report Says Enlargement At Risk From Corruption In Candidate States

The Open Society Institute, a nonprofit organization funded by the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, yesterday released a report on corruption in the European Union candidate states. The report says corruption is widespread in most applicant states, and warns the problem could undermine the EU's economy and political values. The report also criticizes the EU for lacking a coherent anticorruption policy of its own to guide its future members.

Brussels, 7 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The first Open Society Institute (OSI) corruption report on European Union candidate countries paints a gloomy picture.

It concludes that corruption remains a "serious problem" in most candidate countries years after the European Commission first recognized it in its own annual progress reports on the applicants in 1997.

Although the EU monitors corruption in candidate countries, the OSI report says the bloc has had difficulty both recognizing the extent of the problem and helping to remedy it.

Quentin Reed, the editor of the OSI report, said the root of the problem lies in the fact that the EU itself has no clear anticorruption strategy: "The European Union -- or the [European] Commission, specifically -- has been attempting to put in place an anticorruption framework since at least the mid- or early 1990s. These include the 1995 Anti-Fraud Convention, the 1997 Anti-Corruption Convention, and joint action on corruption in the private sector. All three of these instruments have not come into effect because the commission is unable to persuade the member states to ratify them -- or enough member states."

As a result, OSI says, the EU has not established clear benchmarks for the candidate countries in the fight against corruption.

OSI researchers say the accession of a number of new members with persistent corruption problems would represent a "significant threat" to the EU's democratic institutions, undermine its laws and political values, and do harm to its entire economy.

What complicates matters further, says Reed, is that the EU's approach to corruption, inasmuch it exists, is "narrowly criminal-law-oriented" and pays little heed to the wider political problem known as "state capture," the effect of corruption on the passage of legislation and the financing of political parties.

Reed recommends that the EU adopt the much more comprehensive anticorruption framework developed by the Council of Europe. All candidates and member states, with the exception of Italy and Austria, are already members of the framework

The OSI report bases most of its concrete analysis on studies conducted by the global watchdog Transparency International and the World Bank. Reed says these studies show that on balance, candidate countries suffer from greater corruption than the current EU member states: "What these suggest -- or at least what Transparency's results suggest -- is that all the candidate states are more corrupt than all the member states, except for Estonia, Slovenia, and Hungary in one year. On the other side, among member states, the states that tend to move into the candidate-state bracket [of being more corrupt] are Greece and Italy."

Although the OSI report says that the political will to tackle low-level corruption remains strong across the region, very few candidate countries have put in place frameworks that effectively combat high-level corruption. Where such frameworks exist, they are often not accompanied by the necessary monitoring mechanisms.

Overall, various corruption measures show little improvement in most candidate countries over the last five years.

Nevertheless, the report notes corruption varies significantly from country to country. Estonia is "perceived as the least corrupt" of the candidates, although corruption is suspected to be significant at the local-government level.

Corruption is also not seen as a serious problem in Slovenia and Hungary, although the effectiveness of Slovenia's oversight bodies is described as "questionable" and Hungary is said to suffer from some irregularities in its health sector, traffic police, customs, and central state administration

The OSI reports says corruption is a "serious problem" in Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia. In Lithuania, the administrative sector appears most directly affected, although this conclusion is compromised by a reported lack of reliable information. Although Poland does not rank poorly in global corruption studies, there is evidence that corruption is on the rise at the highest levels of government as well as in local government, the judiciary, and the health-care system. In Slovakia, corruption remains a serious problem in most public institutions, although matters have reportedly improved since 1998.

Latvia is described as having a "major problem" with corruption that is exacerbated by the pervasive influence of private interests on the legislative process.

The OSI reports says the situation is even worse in Bulgaria, where corruption is "widespread in most areas of public life." Romania is the EU candidate "most seriously affected by corruption," a problem the report describes as "endemic" in most areas of public life.