Kettle, Meet Pot

Corruption across EU ‘breathtaking’ – EU Commission” says a headline in the BBC. The Commissioner responsible for the report said that she believed the cost of corruption was “probably much higher” than the €120 billion (US$162 billion) the report estimates. And indeed that is probably correct because corruption within EU organs themselves was not included. Given that the auditors have persistently found money missing in the EU accounts (or, as it is quaintly put in Eurospeak: “error rates”) for nearly two decades, 4.8% of €138.6 billion (€6.6 billion or US$8.9 billion) in 2012, there may well be more. Almost half the businesses operating in Europe say they find corruption to be a problem, More than half the people surveyed think the problem is getting worse. 8% claim to have personally experienced something in the past 12 months.

Here’s the actual report.

Now, these are precisely the politicians, followed enthusiastically by a barking pack of reporters, opinioneers and editorial writers, who are always ready to lecture Russia and posture as an paradigm to be emulated. Indeed Ukraine is being torn apart precisely by the pretension that the EU is the only route for it to get out of stagnation and corruption. I do not believe that tu quoque is a particularly effective way of arguing but there are times when outright hypocrisy must be acknowledged. Eurosceptics like myself have always expected that huge uncontrolled bureaucracies producing ever more layers of regulations is a strong precondition for corruption – how else can a company or individual navigate through contradictory and incomprehensible regulations than by the lubrication of a shot of cash in the right place? It is to the credit of the EU that it produced such a harsh report.

And it’s not just hypocrisy that Ukrainians should think about. What if the EU structure is in fact the principle cause of stagnation and corruption just as communism was? There are important similarities after all: faceless, well-paid bureaucrats at the centre conducting experiments on a powerless population.

Who are the faceless gnomes of Brussels to lecture Moscow or Kiev or anyone else?

Who can take anything they say seriously any more?



  1. Dear Anatoly Patrick,

    AK: It’s a multi-author blog now. 😉

    Very good article.

    The unhappy truth is that in modern industrial societies corruption at some level is a fact of life. It manifests itself in different ways in different countries and the amount of corruption varies from place to place but human nature being what it is the idea of an industrialised society completely free of corruption is an impossible ideal.

    On the subject of the European Union I have privileged inside knowledge in that my brother used to work for the Commission and continues to work as a European Affairs Consultant. He describes corruption and patronage networks that are out of control and which have attained baroque dimensions, which is inevitable in a bureaucracy that is essentially unaccountable. In his opinion the single greatest source of corruption are the so called structural funds, which he feels are almost designed to promote corruption.

    My brother also describes an organisation experiencing a steady degeneration. When he went to work for the Commission in the 1990s it was still a relatively small organisation. Some of the older people working there were however already looking back wistfully to happier and simpler times in the 1960s and 1970s when the Commission had been a cheerful and informal place. It has now evolved into a bureaucratic monster riven by feuds and obsessed with expansion of its remit and with a mission to centralise, regulate and control everything it can in its quest to create a European single market. Worse still (and here the comparison with the USSR is apt) it treats any criticisms of itself and of its mission as opposition to “Europe” itself, which in the minds of its officials has long ceased to be a continent where people live but has rather acquired the quality of a dogma. As a result mistakes are never corrected and any new thinking or questioning of existing policies for example in relation to the euro are treated as heresy. We see this again with the Ukraine where perfectly reasonable suggestions from the Ukrainians to modify the terms of the association agreement to make it more practical or to discuss its terms with the Russians are summarily rejected. Van Rompuys by the way made a very interesting comment at the Munich Security Conference a few days ago when he said that the Ukraine “belongs with the EU”. Where the Ukraine is concerned the word “belongs” really does say it all.

    The big difference with the USSR is of course that whilst the USSR emerged from and was in essence a single country the European Union is or is supposed to be a confederation of distinct states that are supposed to be sovereign democracies and which have separate histories from each other. I doubt it can continue in this way for very long or for anything like as long as the USSR did.

  2. Anatoly, in your comparison of the US, UK, and Russia, you say, ‘Overall, corruption is far less prevalent in the UK [than in the US and Russia]’. If 64% of the British population thinks that corruption is widespread in the country (see report), where do you think the rot is?

    • The problem is that questions such as “Do you think corruption is widespread in your country?” are all but useless because they don’t so much measure corruption, but humility and a penchant for self-criticism. Most people everywhere think their politicians are corrupt to some extent. “Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under,” – Mencken.

      A much more useful question is not to ask anybody their perception of corruption (be they ordinary people or “experts,” as per the CPI), but to ask them if they’ve encountered concrete examples of corruption (e.g. being asked to pay a bribe) in the past X months/years. In the most comprehensive international survey on this matter, 1% of Britons replied in the affirmative, compared to 5% of Americans, and 26% of Russians. Here is a comprehensive set of statistics about this.

      The 8% figure given for Europe in this report (not specific cases of bribery, but general “corruption”) is quite plausible, although of course very it differs a lot country to country (with the Brits and Scandinavians on one end of the spectrum, and the Meds and E. Europeans at the other).

  3. (1) Have given my basic outlook on corruption in Europe vs. Russia in the comment above. In short, there is a vast spectrum of corruption in the EU, from very clean states like the UK and Scandinavia, to quite corrupt ones such as Greece, Hungary, Romania, and Lithuania (to a lesser extent Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Latvians). If Russia was in the EU, it would be in the lowest-scoring group with the likes of Greece, Romania, or Lithuania, but it would not be an absolute outlier as implied by the Corruption Perceptions Index.

    (2) The EU estimates here that ~5% of its budget is malappropriated. IIRC, equivalent estimates by the Russian government was around 20%-25%. Which is probably about correct as it tallies with everyday corruption statistics.

    (3) Re-Indeed Ukraine is being torn apart precisely by the pretension that the EU is the only route for it to get out of stagnation and corruption.

    Here I completely agree.

    The reason Greece is corrupt is Greeks, not the EU. The reason Russia is corrupt is Russians, not its absence from the EU. Likewise, the reason Ukraine is corrupt is Ukrainians, regardless of whether it is in the EU or not.

    There have only been very modest improvements in transparency/corruption in countries acceding to the EU, and in general they faded away as soon as they joined up anyway. You can’t sweep away centuries of culture with a couple of commands from Brussels.