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August 03, 2013

Europeans Lose Trust in Governments

by Selah Hennessy

Years into an economic crisis that has rocked the eurozone, European citizens are losing trust in their governments. A recent survey found that trust in political parties is at an all-time low with up to 90 percent in some countries saying politicians are affected by corruption. The survey comes as a number of top political figures in Italy, Spain, and France face allegations of fraud and tax evasion.

Across Europe, citizens are losing trust in their governments.

A recent study carried out by the corruption watchdog Transparency International surveyed people in 107 countries. Only 23 percent said their governments are making effective efforts to beat corruption.

In Europe, the figures were much lower. In Spain, eight percent felt like corruption was being addressed; in Italy, 13 percent; in Greece and Portugal, just one percent.

Valentina Rigamonti of Transparency International  said the crisis of confidence was deepest in the countries hardest hit by the economic crisis -- arguably the ones most in need of citizens’ trust.

“The global corruption barometer has showed that corruption is very strong in Southern Europe, the countries that are hit by the financial crisis,” said Rigamonti.

Trust in political parties themselves has also gone down. In Greece, one of the eurozone’s major economic worries, 9 in 10 people surveyed said they think political parties are affected by corruption.

Rigamonti said that while the deteriorating trust was most noticeable in economic crisis zones, corruption was a problem in every European country, even Nordic nations, which typically have a good reputation for transparency.

“No one of the countries in Europe is clean. All of them are involved in corruption, at different levels with different problems,” said Rigamonti.

Transparency International’s research comes as politicians across Europe are being hit with accusations of corruption.

On Thursday, a prison sentence was upheld for Italy’s former prime minister and current senator, Silvio Berlusconi, for tax fraud.

A day earlier, Spain’s prime minister was forced to defend himself before parliament over corruption allegations, after he was accused of receiving under-the-table cash payments from construction magnates - an accusation he denies.

Last month, the prime minister of the Czech Republic resigned following a corruption scandal involving one of his aides, as did the entire government of Luxembourg - again because of corruption allegations.

William Bartlett is a Europe analyst at the London School of Economics.

He said the economic recession in Europe has not necessarily made corruption worse. Government corruption, he said, has been a problem across Europe for decades.

But he said that when money was tight, the problem became more apparent.

“I think in recession, in a way, strangely enough, although there are less opportunities for corruption because the pie is shrinking and there is less to go around, nevertheless at that time people are much more sensitive to it, so it's much more likely to come to public attention,” said Bartlett.

He said the loss of citizens' trust in their governments was a major problem for European countries as they tried to implement austerity measures.

Bulgaria has recently seen weeks of public protest over alleged government corruption.  In Spain, the allegations over the prime minister’s links to corruption also brought people onto the streets in protest.

“Countries such as Greece, France, Italy, where unemployment is increasing, living standards are falling - whenever these issues crop up, people think, why should we be taking the costs of all of these policies when politicians are not taking part, too?,” said Bartlett.

According to the Transparency International survey, citizens of 51 nations see political parties as their countries' most corrupt institution. And more than half of those surveyed said they feel government is run by special interests.