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: Curbing Post-Communist Corruption: External Pressure vs. Domestic Commitment

Leslie Holmes


At the end of the 1990s, based on businesspeople’s perceptions, the World Bank rated the Commonwealth of Independent States the most corrupt region in the world, while Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltics, though not as bad, were not far behind (Pradhan et al. 2000, pp. xiii-xiv; see too Kaufmann et al. 1999a, b).1 Since that assessment, the situation has improved in much of the post-communist world, and other regions have assumed the dubious honour of being perceived to be the most corrupt on the planet. Many analysts cite inter alia the communist legacy in explaining the existence and persistence of corruption in post-communist states such as Russia. However, some have also pointed to the potential influence of the EU in curbing corruption and countering the communist legacy in those post-communist states admitted to it, arguing that conditionality in the run-up to admission can play a very positive role and that, once

L. Holmes (*)

School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

Fish, Gill, Petrovic (eds.), A Quarter Century of Post-Communism Assessed, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-43437-7_5

admitted, Brussels can continue to exert pressure. But is this the case? Are post-communist states admitted to the EU better able to reduce corruption than other post-communist states?

This chapter addresses this issue by focusing on the perceived and experienced corruption in four post-communist states—Russia, two countries admitted to the EU in 2007 (Bulgaria and Romania), and one non-EU country that has been the star performer in terms of reducing corruption, Georgia. Bulgaria and Romania have been selected as examples of ‘crucial’ or ‘critical’ case studies - similar to negative case-testing, in that they are used to test an hypothesis or theory under least favourable conditions (i.e. we already know that both countries are perceived to have a serious problem of corruption).2 It is demonstrated that, while there is evidence to suggest that corruption levels did improve somewhat in Bulgaria and Romania in the years immediately preceding their admission to the EU and have since more or less stabilised or even become somewhat better, the situation has not improved as much as could be hoped for, at least in the case of Bulgaria (Romania fares better). On the basis of these four case studies, it is argued that the EU can and does exert pressure on both applicant states and member-states to reduce corruption, and that it appears that this may have a positive effect - bearing in mind that correlation does not prove causation. In our conclusions, we remind the reader that Bulgaria and Romania were selected as ‘crucial’ case studies, and we then consider how other post-communist EU member-states have been performing in terms of reducing corruption. This again suggests that, in general, membership of the EU has a positive effect on corruption levels. However, it is also argued there that domestic political will and capacity are ultimately crucial to success.

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