Posted on June 17th, 2021

Courtesy Transparency International

Countries in the European Union (EU) are known for being wealthy, stable and democratic. However, this clean image is undermined by issues ranging from regional inequality and erosion of the rule of law to corruption problems.

Transparency International’s new Global Corruption Barometer – EU 2021 is one of the largest, most detailed surveys of people’s views and experiences of corruption across the bloc.

Find out what people across the EU think about corruption

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We surveyed over 40,000 people in all 27 EU countries. The results reveal that almost a third of people think corruption is getting worse in their country. A further 44 per cent think it’s not getting any better.

Whether it’s perceptions of government corruption and impunity for wrongdoing, or the use of personal connections when accessing public services, the results challenge the EU’s image as a place of integrity. They also call for immediate and coordinated action against a growing problem.


*Percentage of people who think corruption increased in the previous 12 months

Business and politics intertwined

People in the EU increasingly scrutinise the cosy relationship between business and government. When it is unclear what ties policymakers have to the business community, there is a risk that policies and regulations are made in favour of narrow private interests, rather than the common good.

We found that less than a third of people (30 per cent) think their government takes their views into account when making decisions.

Around half think that bribes or connections are commonly used by businesses to secure profitable government contracts and that big companies often avoid paying their taxes.

It is not surprising, then, that more than half of people in the EU think their government is run by private interests.


*Percentage of people who agree that the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves

Who’s seen as the most corrupt?

We found that almost two thirds of people in the EU think that government corruption is a problem in their country. This is made worse by widespread perceptions of impunity, with only 21 per cent of people believing that officials often face appropriate penalties for corruption.

Citizens are divided about which institutions have the biggest corruption problems. In half of EU countries, prime ministers and members of parliament are seen as the most corrupt. In the other half, it is business executives and bankers.

Yet trust in the police, local governments and the courts is high across the region. More than 60 per cent of EU residents reported trusting these institutions.


*Percentage of people who think most or all people in the following institutions are corrupt

How equal is access to public services?

While bribery rates remain low at seven per cent, we found that around three in ten people used a personal connection to access health care, education and other public services. This is equivalent to more than 106 million people across the bloc.


*Percentage of public service users who used personal connections to get a service in the previous 12 months

Health care is a hotspot for corruption. This is of particular concern during the current COVID-19 pandemic, when citizens urgently need medical support and vaccinations. Although just 6 per cent of people paid a bribe for health care, 29 per cent of EU residents have used personal connections to receive medical attention.

During a health crisis, using personal connections to access public services can be as damaging as paying bribes. Lives can be lost when connected people get a COVID-19 vaccine or medical treatment before those with more urgent needs. It’s crucial that governments across the EU redouble their efforts to ensure a fair and equitable recovery from the ongoing pandemic.

Delia Ferreira RubioChair of Transparency InternationalTweet this

The Global Corruption Barometer – EU 2021 highlights data on sextortion, which is the abuse of power to obtain a sexual benefit or advantage. This often occurs in exchange for public services, like health care or education.

While 75 per cent of EU residents think that sextortion occurs at least occasionally, only seven per cent of people report either having experienced it directly or knowing someone who has.

Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania have the highest sextortion rates for people accessing public services.


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