A new survey by Transparency International has found that 29% of EU residents used well-connected friends or family to receive medical care during the pandemic. At least 6% of people paid bribes to access health care.
The coronavirus pandemic has worsened corruption across the European Union, Transparency International said on Tuesday.
In its annual Global Corruption Barometer report for the EU, the anti-graft watchdog called health care a "hotspot for corruption," adding that graft is of "particular concern during the current COVID-19 pandemic, when citizens urgently need medical support and vaccinations."
Transparency International, headquartered in the German capital of Berlin, surveyed more than 40,000 people in the EU's 27 member states between October and December 2020.
The survey found that 29% of the bloc's residents have used personal connections such as well-connected friends or family to receive medical attention and 6% of people paid an outright bribe to receive health care.
Bribery rates in health care were highest in Romania (22%) and Bulgaria (19%), while relying on personal connections occured most often in the Czech Republic (54%) and Portugal (46%).
Governments using crisis for 'profit'
Many respondents also believed that their governments weren't handling the pandemic in a transparent way. In France, Poland and Spain, 60% of respondents or more said their governments acted in a non-transparent manner.
"Lives can be lost when connected people get a COVID-19 vaccine or medical treatment before those with more urgent needs," the report warned.
"It's crucial that governments across the EU redouble their efforts to ensure a fair and equitable recovery from the ongoing pandemic," it added.
The survey singled out Hungary and Poland as countries using the pandemic as "an excuse to undermine democracy" by imposing measures that weaken democratic institutions.
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Politicians saw the health crisis "as a chance to make a profit," the watchdog said, citing lobbying scandals surrounding several German lawmakers.
EU distrust in government
Beyond the coronavirus pandemic, the survey found that a third of EU residents think corruption as a whole is worsening in their country, with almost half saying their government was doing a poor job at handling graft.
Respondents were particularly concerned about "cozy relationships" between governments and the private sector and tax cuts.
Growing perception of corruption in Germany
The survey found that in Germany, one in four people perceive that corruption is worsening.