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Conclusions

Since both Bulgaria and Romania continue to suffer from high levels of corruption - at least by European standards - it could be argued that the EU’s role in curbing malfeasance in these two relatively new members has been at best marginal. However, this would be to overstate and arguably misrepresent the case. The EU has certainly exerted pressure on both countries, not only in the pre-accession period but also since accession. This can be seen in the financial penalties imposed on Bulgaria, as well as in the resistance by a number of EU member-states to the two Balkan states’ applications to join the Schengen Area; while this zone does not completely duplicate EU membership (it includes non-EU states, such as Norway and Switzerland, and does not include certain long-standing EU member-states, notably the UK), there is considerable overlap between the two units. Another point, emphasised by Dimitrova and Buzogany (2014), is that a comprehensive appreciation of the EU’s role requires consideration of its indirect forms of influence, such as the use NGOs can and do make of EU policies, reports, etc. in attempting to influence Bulgarian and Romanian authorities. The EU could be argued to be exerting influence in this indirect manner as well as in the more obvious and overt ways. Finally, it is quite possible that the scale of corruption in both Bulgaria and Romania would be even larger were it not for external pressure.

But there is a limit to the extent to which either the EU or any other democratic external agent can or could legitimately be expected to influence individual member-states anyway. Ultimately, as analysts such as Noutcheva and Bechev (2008) and Ivanov (2010) correctly argue, domestic factors are more important. This point requires elaboration.

Jon Quah is among those who emphasise that the single most important factor in reducing corruption is political will (e.g. Quah 2015). In fact, as I have argued elsewhere (e.g. Holmes 2006, pp. 265-7, 2015, p. 125), this point needs unpacking and expansion. In terms of unpacking, we need to consider whose political will matters. The usual assumption is that this refers to the very top leadership. This is a sensible and justifiable inference: the will of the supreme leader (e.g. the president in a presidential system; the prime minister in a parliamentary system) is all-important. Perhaps the most significant reason why Georgia significantly reduced its corruption levels from 2003 was that President Saakashvili was wholeheartedly committed to anti-corruption, at least at the lower levels of the state. Conversely, while former law professor President Medvedev in Russia does appear to have been genuinely and seriously committed to reducing corruption, former KGB officer Putin has never been more than lukewarm in his commitment, his public declarations notwithstanding. Bulgarian leaders of various political hues have declared themselves to be committed to combating corruption, but none has had the real will of either Saakashvili or Medvedev. The Romanian case leads us to our second caveat, the need to expand on - here meaning add to - the concept of political will.

Before he was elected president in 1996, former professor of geology and university pro-rector Emil Constantinescu declared that the fight against corruption in Romania would be one of his top priorities if elected. Once in office, he did indeed mount a major campaign against corruption - so much so that both the mass media and other politicians criticised him for being too extreme. Thus, Transport Minister (and subsequently Romanian president) Traian Basescu claimed that Constantinescu’s anti-corruption drive had ‘spun out of control’ (cited in Gabanyi 2004, p. 366). In 2000, Constantinescu could have run again for president, but did not. In explaining his decision, he expressed his disappointment at not having made much progress in combating corruption in his country, and claimed that this was primarily because he had not had the support he needed from others in combating corruption. Indeed, there had been several corruption scandals in his own government.

The Constantinescu case leads us to the point that political will is a necessary but insufficient condition. In addition, political leaders need to have political capacity; if they cannot secure the support of their own administrations, their own commitment will not in itself suffice to make much impression on the corruption situation. Expressed another way, the political will of the leader is not the only will that matters; that of the government and the state bureaucracy is also crucial. Thus, Anderson and Gray (2006, p. 19) are correct when, in assessing Saakashvili’s early successes and the significant role of ‘strong leadership’, they nevertheless conclude that ‘Committed leadership is important, but transparent, accountable, and well-functioning institutions are the key to good governance over the long term’.

These institutions must include another component of political will that needs to be added to the equation, namely civil society. Since there is no adequate comparative measure of the salience of civil society, we here use a proxy measure, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. This index, based on 60 indicators, adopts a ‘thicker’ version of democracy than the approach of Freedom House and includes composite scores for civil liberties and political culture. Unfortunately, the Democracy Index dates only from 2007 (when the 2006 situation was assessed, see Table 4.8).

Citing Anderson and Gray (2006, p. 19) once again:

Table 4.8 Type of political system

2006

Score

2006

Type

2008

Score

2008

Type

2010

Score

2010

Type

2012

Score

2012

Type

2014

Score

2014

Type

Bulgaria

7.10

FD

7.02

FD

6.84

FD

6.72

FD

6.73

FD

Georgia

4.90

H

4.62

H

4.59

H

5.53

H

5.82

H

Romania

7.06

FD

7.06

FD

6.60

FD

6.54

FD

6.68

FD

Russia

5.02

H

4.48

H

4.26

H

3.74

A

3.39

A

Notes: FD—Flawed Democracy; H—Hybrid; A—Authoritarian; Scaling—0-10 (the higher the score, the more democratic).

Sources: 2006—EIU (2007, pp. 3-4); 2008—EIU (2009, pp. 5-6); 2010—EIU (2010, pp. 4-6); 2012— EIU (2013, pp. 5-7); 2014—EIU (2015, pp. 5-7).

Equally important is supporting the development of robust mechanisms for feedback from civil society. In the long term an informed public and civil society, an independent media, and tolerance of constructive criticism of the leadership are essential to sustaining the gains from reform.

A similar argument has been made more recently and at length by one of the best-regarded and most influential analysts of corruption, Michael Johnston (2014). This is where Georgia’s achievements may still prove to be fragile. Since its political system is rated as ‘hybrid’ (i.e. between authoritarianism and flawed democracy), the roles of ordinary citizens, the mass media, etc. are still not substantial or robust enough to ensure sustained success.18 In this sense, any future progress in reducing corruption in Russia would also be fragile, until and unless the country becomes markedly more democratic.

On the other hand, Bulgaria and Romania have better long-term prospects, since their institutions are more democratic - to no small extent because of EU influence. Even if the impact of targeted EU anticorruption measures have only limited success, Brussels’ more diffuse influence on democratisation will have indirect knock-on effects, including on corruption levels. Thus, if Bulgaria or Romania should in the future have leaders genuinely committed to combating corruption, there is a good chance that a sustained reduction in corruption levels will be achieved. The EU certainly can and should maintain the pressure on Sofia and Bucharest to take both anti-corruption and deeper democratisation seriously.

It was explained in the introduction to this chapter that Bulgaria and Romania had been selected as ‘crucial’ case studies for testing the

Table 4.9 CPI (perceptions-based) scores in other post-communist EU member- states 1997-2015

1997

2000

2003

2005

2006

2010

2012

2013

2014

2015

Croatia

37

37

34

34

41

46

48

48

51

Czechia

52

43

39

43

48

46

49

48

51

56

Estonia

57

55

64

67

65

64

68

69

70

Hungary

52

52

48

50

52

47

55

54

54

51

Latvia

34

38

42

47

43

49

53

55

55

Lithuania

41

47

48

48

50

54

57

58

61

Poland

51

41

36

34

37

53

58

60

61

62

Slovakia

35

37

43

47

43

46

47

50

51

Slovenia

55

59

61

64

64

61

57

58

60

Note: Empty cells = no data.

Source: Transparency International website, http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview. Accessed 28 November 2015 and 20 March 2016.

hypothesis that the EU can and does exert a positive influence on potential and actual member-states in terms of corruption levels. It has been demonstrated that, even in these difficult cases, the EU has certainly sought to exert influence on both states, and that it may have had some limited success. If we now focus on the other post-communist EU member-states, it transpires that most have experienced a reduction - often considerable - in perceived corruption levels in comparison with the years just before accession. This point emerges clearly from Table 4.9.

Table 4.9 reveals that in seven formerly communist states - Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia - the 2015 CPI score is a marked improvement on their score in the 3-4 years preceding their admission to the EU. The only exceptions are Hungary and Slovenia, both of which are perceived to have had rather similar levels of corruption in 2015 as in the early-2000s. This is not the place to examine the specific reasons for these exceptions; but it can be noted that both countries are still above the 50 mark that TI considers the cut-off point for unacceptable levels of corruption, with Slovenia being well above it. It is important here to repeat the ‘Statistics 101’ caveat made early in this analysis that correlation does not prove causation. The improvements in most states might be just as well explained in terms of a more stable political situation (though anyone familiar with the domestic politics of several of these countries in recent years would question this), a more stable economy (again, this is debatable in several states), or other factors. Nevertheless, it is legitimate to note that most post-communist states that have joined the EU appear to have less of a problem with corruption than they did before membership. Conversely, Georgia demonstrates that post-communist states in which the leadership has sufficient political will and capacity can make major inroads in the fight against corruption without EU assistance or pressure;19 the durability of such improvements unless accompanied by deeper democratisation is unclear, however.

 
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