‘COVID crisis worsened corruption in European Union’

BERLIN (AFP) – The pandemic has worsened corruption across the European Union (EU), Transparency International said yesterday, with citizens at times needing personal connections to get medical care and some governments using the crisis for their own gain.

The anti-graft watchdog surveyed more than 40,000 people in the EU’s 27 member states between October and December 2020.

On average, it found that 29 per cent had relied on favours or well-connected friends and family to access public sector health services last year. Six per cent of respondents resorted to paying an outright bribe.

“Healthcare, in particular, has been a corruption hotspot as governments struggled to manage the COVID-19 pandemic,” Transparency said in its annual report of people’s experiences and perceptions of graft in the EU.

Bribery rates in the health sector were highest in Romania (22 per cent) and Bulgaria (19 per cent), while leaning on personal connections happened most often in the Czech Republic (54 per cent) and Portugal (46 per cent).

Many respondents also said their governments weren’t handling the pandemic in a transparent manner.

In France, Poland and Spain, 60 per cent of respondents or more felt that way.

Transparency International called the findings “particularly worrying in the current context”.

“Not only are COVID-19 sufferers in need of medical support, but governments across the EU are rolling out vaccinations to protect those most vulnerable to the virus and are creating plans to allocate billions of euros for post-pandemic recovery.

“Corruption threatens all these activities,” it said, urging EU governments to “redouble their efforts to ensure a fair and equitable recovery from the ongoing pandemic”.

The report’s authors singled out Hungary and Poland as countries using the crisis as “an excuse to undermine democracy” by imposing regulations that weaken democratic institutions.

Other politicians saw it “as a chance to make a profit”, they said, pointing to lobbying for face-mask procurement and lobbying scandals that have ensnared several German lawmakers.

Looking beyond the health crisis, the survey found that a third of EU residents think corruption as a whole is getting worse in their country, although there were huge regional differences.