Fourteen of the top 20 countries in this year’s CPI are from Western Europe and the European Union (EU), including nine countries from the EU alone.
Despite being the best performing region, with an average score of 66 out of 100, Western Europe and the EU are not immune to corruption.
With 87 points, Denmark is the highest-scoring country in the region, followed by Finland (86), Sweden (85) and Switzerland (85). At the bottom of the region are Bulgaria (43), Romania (44) and Hungary (44).
With a score of 53, Italy increased by 11 points since 2012 while Greece (48) increased by 12 points during the same period. Both countries experienced concrete improvements, including legislative progress in Italy with the passage of anti-corruption laws and the creation of an anti-corruption agency in both countries.
Post-Communist EU States
Most post-communist EU member states are struggling to address corruption effectively. Several countries, including Hungary, Poland and Romania, have taken steps to undermine judicial independence, which weakens their ability to prosecute cases of high-level corruption.
In the Czech Republic (56), recent scandals involving the prime minister and his efforts to obtain public money through EU subsidies for his company highlight a startling lack of political integrity. The scandals also point to an insufficient level of transparency in political campaign financing.
Issues of conflict of interest, abuse of state resources for electoral purposes, insufficient disclosure of political party and campaign financing, and a lack of media independence are prevalent and should take priority both for national governments and the EU.
Country To Watch: Malta
With a score of 54, Malta is a significant decliner on the CPI, dropping six points since 2015. Given the “pair of political machines [that] have [for decades] operated with impunity on the island” it’s no wonder that two years after the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed while reporting on corruption, the country is still mired in corruption.
Despite calls from Maltese citizens, Caruana Galizia’s family and the international community to solve the case, the government dragged its feet in the judicial procedures. Several scandals involving the Panama Papers, the collapse of a Maltese bank and the “golden visa” scheme that sells Maltese citizenship to wealthy overseas investors may also contribute to Malta’s decline on the CPI.
In Malta, corruption is undermining the rule of law. A significant lack of political integrity contributes to politicians and others hiding illicit wealth behind secret companies.
Country To Watch: Estonia
For the past decade, Estonia (74) has seen a stable rise on the CPI. A significant improver, the country increased its score by 10 points since 2012. A comprehensive legislative framework, independent institutions and effective online tools make it possible to reduce petty corruption and make political party financing open and transparent. There is a need, however, to legally define and regulate lobbying to prevent and detect undue influence on policy-making.
Although private sector corruption is not captured on the CPI, recent money laundering scandals involving the Estonian branch of Danske Bank demonstrate a greater need for integrity and accountability in the banking and business sectors. The scandal also highlights a need for better and stronger EU-wide anti-money laundering supervision.