The battle against corruption has been a challenge ever since the first bribe was exchanged for private gain. There have been some successes and many failures. In response, EU-funded researchers are taking a fresh look at one of the murkiest sides of human behaviour. Their studies have already yielded results - steps towards practical solutions to an age-old problem.
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EU countries have increased measures against corruption in recent years, yet it continues to cause harm. A report from the EU-funded project ANTICORRP estimates that corruption is costing EU countries €323 billion annually in lost taxes.
“While it is by now fairly well known that corruption has severe harmful effects on the economy, society and people, less is understood about how to stop it,” says Monika Bauhr, a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Bauhr is the scientific coordinator for ANTICORRP, which has taken up this challenge. The teams of researchers in 15 countries seek to better understand the factors that promote or hinder effective anti-corruption policies.
Since the project’s start in March 2012, the team has already delivered an analysis of the different forms of corruption and has started to link these to the effectiveness of anticorruption measures. ANTICORRP’s studies have identified general global corruption trends and ranked countries on their progress in reducing corruption. The researchers have also carried out surveys in the EU and the rest of the world on people’s perceptions of the problem.
These preliminary results are already feeding into European policymaking. The project team regularly updates policymakers and other researchers at meetings across Europe, says Bauhr. An important outcome will be a better knowledge on how anti-corruption measures can be tailored to deal more effectively with various forms of corruption.
The project also publishes results in the form of a yearly report distributed to policymakers. The report, edited by researchers at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, translates project findings into immediate options for anti-corruption policies.
Levels of corruption
In one of its first studies, the Hertie School team found that corruption in the EU distorts market competition, increases budget deficits, hurts investment in public health and education, reduces tax collection and holds back the use of EU funds.
ANTICORRP’s researchers also developed new indicators to measure corruption in public procurement. These complement existing indicators, widely used by bodies such as the World Bank and Transparency International, a leading anti-corruption organisation.
The new indicators were used to analyse data on public procurement contracts. The team compared EU-funded and nationally funded public projects in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. They found that EU funds are more susceptible to favouritism, with up to one-third of EU funding to these countries affected by corruption.
The project’s ongoing work includes:
- a global trends report comparing countries on how they control corruption, by region and by individual country (21 countries improved, 27 fell behind);
- ethnographic work in 9 countries on a wide range of topics relating to corruption, including the experiences, informal practices, social values and cultural norms affecting everyday practices and ideas of corruption;
- an analysis of a completed regional survey (85 000 respondents in 206 regions in 24 countries) on the quality and impartiality of government institutions and public services.
- a global expert survey on potential means to reduce corruption, including access to information, whistle-blower protection, audit institutions and meritocratic recruitment;
- a series of studies on individual values and motivations to engage against corruption;
- studies on organised crime and impacts on vulnerable groups;
- historical studies on how societies have succeeded in reducing corruption;
- studies on how mass media have covered corruption stories and the role of journalists in containing corruption;
- research monitoring anti-corruption legislation and enforcement in Europe.
ANTICORRP is one of the largest research projects ever undertaken on corruption, says Bauhr. Finding an effective means to combat corruption is essential for future economic development in Europe – and the rest of the world, she adds.
“There are no guarantees we will find solutions. Corruption is a complex phenomenon with economic, social and political dimensions, which cannot be easily eliminated,” she says. “But our work will find some of the answers.”