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Business and politics

June 8, 2012

Transparency International has done a fact check on 25 European countries resulting in a new integrity register. Germany gets good overall marks but still has some work to do when it comes to fighting corruption.

Image: granata68/Fotolia

Anti-corruption group Transparency International said on Wednesday that the ties between business and government have become close enough to enable corruption and undermine economic stability.

"Across Europe, many of the institutions that define a democracy and enable a country to stop corruption are weaker than often assumed," Transparency International Managing Director Cobus de Swardt said. "This report raises troubling questions at a time when transparent leadership is needed as Europe tries to resolve its economic crisis."

The group said Denmark, Norway and Sweden were best protected against corruption, with strong watchdogs, auditors, justice systems and law enforcement agencies. Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, however, were "shown to have serious deficits in pubic sector accountability and deep-rooted problems of inefficiency, malpractice and corruption."

Since 1995, Transparency International has looked into the grey zone between obvious and suspected corruption. The group publishes its Transparency Index based on interviews done with national and international businessmen. The current index lists Germany as No. 14 out of 183 countries in total.

The European report, published Wednesday, is the first time the organization conducted a more extensive fact checking integrity report for 25 European countries.

UN convention

The anti-corruption group said it wanted to analyze strengths and weaknesses of transparency efforts across Europe. Germany, according to the report, has a "good to very good" level of integrity, which was described as openness and fairness in the business world as well as the relation between citizens and politics.

Close-up handcuffs and money over white background.
Germany is generally good at fighting corruptionImage: Fotolia/S-Christina

But despite the good overall marks, TI added that there was room for improvement in a handful of areas. Corruption and bribery of parliamentarians are illegal but in Germany only the selling and buying of votes is actually a punishable offence, the group pointed out.

The United Nations, in its 2005 convention against corruption, called for more ways to tackle corruption. Ratified by 160 countries, but not Germany, the convention would make it illegal to offer, promise or grant advantages to third parties.

Controversial donations

The opposition Social Democrats have drafted a bill to amend the laws affected by the convention's implementation. The governing center-right coalition, however, is hesitant to change the law.

Christian Humborg, head of Transparency International's Germany's branch, told DW the stalemate in Berlin an "unacceptable, scandalous" arrangement. Germany was putting itself in a "ridiculous" position, he said, adding that German leaders call upon other countries to tackle corruption, but fail to implement the UN convention.

Humborg said he was optimistic that Germany will soon have no choice but to adopt the convention. He pointed out that Norbert Lammert, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and president of the German parliament, had made critical statements in the past and that industrial groups called for Germany to follow the majority of other countries.

Another point of criticism is that only direct donations over 10,000 euros ($12,500) need to be publicized. Humborg said this amount is too high and could create the impression that the donations would result in a trade-off.

No backing for lobbying register

A useful tool for more transparency could be a mandatory national lobby register, Humborg suggested. It should contain all companies but also lawyers in professional contact with parliamentarians, ministers and public offices. Since 1972, there has been a voluntary register in Germany.

Christian Humborg
Humborg calls for a mandatory lobbying registerImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Thousands of lobby groups work to influence politics and legislation in Berlin. While lobbying is legal, TI said it wants the practice to be more transparent so that the public can trace how and by whom new legislation has been shaped. Currently, there is no political backing for such a move.

Author: Marcel Fürstenau / ai
Editor: Sean Sinico