Spain still struggling with corruption while Greece improves

Corruption was at the heart of the financial crises in Spain and Greece. But now it appears that while Athens is making an effort to clean up, Madrid is heading in the other direction.

Anti-corruption organisation Transparency International's (TI) annual survey on perceptions of corruption showed Spain plunging at the same rate as war-torn nations such as Libya and Mali over the past year. Only Syria had worsened more rapidly.

While Spain has for years had a poor reputation for corruption, a series of high-profile cases spreading to the very top of society there has battered its global reputation.

Even the Spanish royal family has been touched by scandal, with the King's own son-in-law recently being charged with embezzling €6m (£3.6m) of public funds. The former treasurer of the main People's Party has admitted funnelling funds from construction company executives to politicians.

"These scandals have been a major factor for Spain's reputation around the world," said TI Western Europe co-ordinator Valentina Rigamonti. "Meanwhile, it has only made the tiniest of steps towards beating corruption and that resonates with people's perceptions."

She added that Spain had recently finally passed a freedom of information law – the last country in western Europe to do so – but it is said to be weak and does not live up to international standards.

Greece, on the other hand, was one of the world's most-improved nations, after bringing in a package of anti-corruption measures and a number of high-profile trials and whistleblower cases.

However, Greece remains the most-corrupt country in Europe, according to the TI barometer of surveys from major international sources such as the World Bank and the Economist Intelligence unit.

Italy also remains extremely corrupt. At 69th place, it comes in lower than Macedonia and Montenegro. Italy made a tiny improvement – by 1 point on the TI index – possibly due to the anti graft law passed last year.

"The fight is still going on in Italy and there is still lots to do," said Ms Rigamonti.

The United Kingdom ranks as the 14th least-corrupt – up three positions on the previous year – and saw its score improve slightly thanks to the continuing impact of the Bribery Act. However, TI warned that continued political scandals remained a vulnerability for the country.

Denmark, New Zealand and Finland were the top three cleanest countries.

The prevalence of corruption in southern European countries has long been a topic of debate in corporate-governance circles.

Ms Rigamonti said: "Perhaps it is because these countries do not have the longstanding culture of anti corruption that you have in the Nordic countries, even among the younger people. Their history has been really different. Many in southern Europe have been ruled by dictatorships; they are younger democracies."

She added that freedom of the media was also a major factor preventing corruption in northern European states. The press in Italy, Greece and Spain does not have the freedom enjoyed by those in northern European.

Most-improved states were Brunei, Senegal, Laos and Burma, although, in the latter's case, TI said it remained very corrupt but was beginning to make steps in the right direction.

Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia were the world's most-corrupt nations.

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