Jacob Svensson (vä) vid Institutet för internationell ekonomi i Stockholm och Giancarlo Spagnolo vid universitetet i Rom diskuterar strategier mot korruption i Östeuropa.

Jakob Svensson (left), Stockholm School of Economics, and Giancarlo Spagnolo, University of Rome, discussed different approaches against corruption in Eastern Europe.

Photo: Sida /Kerstin Becker

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Tough fight against corruption in Eastern Europe

Updated: 23 June 2014

EU membership and reform cooperation has influenced Eastern Europe over the past ten years, but the level of corruption in the region has hardly improved, despite major investments in anti-corruption programmes. There are approaches that work, but it is not the donors that must do the work, the change has to come from within.

How can we fight corruption in Eastern Europe? This was the question that Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi from Hertie School of Governance in Germany tried to answer, during a seminar at Sida when she presented the results from a *NORAD-financed report.

– Corruption is the biggest source of an unequal society and it impedes a sustainable and democratic development. Therefore it is important to fight it, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi said.


Alina Mungiu-Pippidi Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

Corruption can be defined as a behaviour which deviates from the formal duties of a public role because of private-regarding, financial or status gains. Asking what actually causes corruption is however not relevant, she argued. Corruption is the default state in most countries in the world; it is more common to favour a person within ones group, than to treat everybody equally, regardless of group belonging.

Eastern Europe is still far behind the OECD countries when it comes to control of corruption. But they are still ahead of other continents, in contrast to former Soviet states at the bottom of the statistics. Despite EU membership and different programmes, there have only been small improvements in Eastern Europe in the past ten years. An interesting observation is also that corruption slightly increases after a country’s transition to democracy.

Resources vs. constraints

So how can we fight corruption? The approach is about finding a way to influence the equilibrium between the resources that feed corruption and the constraints that impede it. Furthermore, it requires a plausible principal that will govern that process, like the European Union.

– Giving resources to public spending in a country like Italy or Romania will only feed corruption, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi said. Public jobs are another type of resources; if I support your election campaign in for example Romania, I expect a public job afterwards.

So who should influence this equilibrium between resources and constraints? Alina Mungiu-Pippidi argued that the donors have chosen the wrong path here:

– We often go to corrupt people and ask them to fight corruption, that’s why it doesn’t work. Support to the establishment of anti-corruption agencies in a non-democratic country may rather have negative effects, being used against oppositional groups.

The fight against corruption must be driven from within, by those who have something to gain from decreased corruption. There are several factors that have proven to contribute to a change: freedom of information and a strong civil society. A strong civil society can control corruption and be a driving force to assure an actual implementation of an approved law on freedom of information. Civil society can monitor how resources are being used and highlight inaccuracies. The number of internet connections in a country also affects organisations’ ability to succeed.

– To blacklist politicians or show people where public spending is going has proven to work against corruption. But it has to be done repeatedly, during a long period of time.

But civil society doesn’t always succeed in fighting corruption. A lot of organisations lack clear objectives or doesn’t understand their role as watch dogs, instead they try to act as experts and give advice to the government they know is corrupt.

– My advice to donors is to support activists at grassroots level, but not try to do the work themselves, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi finished.

 Goran Miletic, Human Rights Lawyer and Programme Director for Western Balkan at Civil Rights Defenders, was one of the participants in the panel discussion. He gave an example of how governments can counteract the same EU laws against corruption that they say they are willing to accept.

– In Serbia, an act to establish an Ombudsman was adopted, but at the same time, they introduced a rule that the Ombudsman’s report had to be approved by the parliament was introduced. If it’s not approved, the statement of the Ombudsman can simply be dismissed. The public servants of the EU often don’t see these details that may hinder the implementation of the laws and overturn the whole work.

Professor Jakob Svensson, at the Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University, agreed with Alina Mungiu-Pippidi’s statement that investments in anti-corruption agencies and programmes have not shown any real results. Strengthening accountability in the public sector doesn’t work as long as the legal institutions are too weak.

Like Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Jakob Svensson also highlighted a method that has been proven effective: to make corruption obvious for those who have to pay for it.

– In the mid 90’s, Uganda’s primary schools only received 20 per cent of the money allocated to them by the state. The central government then started to publish the accounts of monthly transfers in the newspapers, to make it visible for schools and parents how much money that reached the schools. In 2001, the schools received as much as 80 per cent of their annual entitlements.

Corruption has to be costly

It is also important to create mechanisms so that those who have to pay for corruption can monitor and push for change, Jakob Svensson argued. Policies and rules are other necessary instruments. If for example a company can avoid paying expensive emission licenses by paying a petty bribe, the solution is to make corruption more expensive, as well as creating possibilities for the bribe giver to submit complaints.
Whistle blowers or complaints on public servants that are demanding bribes might work in a country where the legal system is strong. Like in Italy, Professor Giancarlo Spagnolo at the University of Rome explained. 

– The most successful anti-corruption movements in Italy were not driven by civil society, but by the judiciary system. Our law that protect whistle blowers against mafia and terrorism work pretty well, as the legal system is sufficiently independent and corruption in the police force is low. But I would be more sceptical about using the same methods in Albania, Russia or the Czech Republic, Giancarlo Spagnolo said.

In countries where legal rules are weak, corruption informants might be imprisoned or even killed. Protecting a person’s identity and information is therefore extremely important as Sida tries to counteract corruption by using a whistle blower system.

Lage Olofsson,Auditor General of Kosovo (a Sida-funded cooperation ), was the panellist who had the largest field experience from corruption work in Eastern Europe.

– The main challenge when Kosovo is being built up as a new country is that people in general are more likely to organise what’s best for their clan, and not for the society. At the same time, we are to implement 100 EU standard laws in one year, in a country as big as Skåne (province in Sweden). If we are to see any real change, we need the donors’ support, but we also need time. We need something that can glue the society together. We don’t create that through long EU documents, but rather through 20 bids that everybody can stick to, he said.


*NORAD is the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.
Read more about Sida’s important work against corruption.

Read more about Sida's important work to fight corruption 


The seminar “How can we fight corruption in Eastern Europe” was held at Sida the 21st of August 2012. Professor, Ph.D., Alina Mungiu-Pippidi from Hertie School of Governance in Berlin presented the results from her research on corruption in Eastern Europe.

Other speakers were Professor, Ph.D., Giancarlo Spagnolo, University of Rome (also Senior Research Fellow, Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics) and Professor, Ph.D., Jakob Svensson, Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University.

Page owner: Communication Unit

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