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The Bigger Picture of Corruption: Europe in Comparative Perspective

Abstract

Recent scandals all over Europe illustrate that corruption permeates political systems. In 2013, Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe even claimed that “Corruption is the biggest threat to democracy in Europe today”. Generally, corruption is detrimental to economic, social and political development and, in particular, violates the fundamental principles of democracy. Given its large negative impact, much stands to be gained from understanding the causes of corruption, especially in relation to region-specific factors, and the ways in which it can be reduced.

Building on prior corruption research, this study investigates the extent and dynamics of corruption in European states both longitudinally as well as cross-nationally; employing multiple levels of analysis. The study considers 37 European countries at the macro level and 20 countries at the micro level, over the period 1995-2010.

My findings reveal that a country’s contextual conditions such as the economic development, international integration, women’s percentage in parliaments, Protestantism, the degree and duration of democracy and historical factors such as the post-communist past influence the extent of corruption over time and across European countries. Furthermore, I have identified that corruption is likely experienced differently depending on certain values, norms, and attitudes such as interpersonal trust and the justification of bribery. However, socio-demographic features such as an individual’s gender, age, employment status and level of income do not show any influence.

Overall, this bundle of factors adding up to a specific “democratic culture” that hinders the growth of corruption by generating strong democratic institutions and fostering citizen norms and values aimed at monitoring and sanctioning corrupt actors. As a result, democracy promotion seems to be the best remedy against corruption spread in Europe.

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