A recent article at the BBC discusses the findings of a report by EU Home Affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem on corruption in the EU. According to the report, the cost of corruption in the EU amounts to €120 billion annually. We would submit that it is likely far more than that (in fact, even Ms. Malmstroem herself concurs with this assessment). This is of course what one gets when one installs vast, byzantine bureaucracies and issues a veritable flood of rules and regulations every year. More and more people are needed to administer this unwieldy nightmare of red tape, and naturally the quality of the hires declines over time due to the sheer numbers required.
Moreover, many small to medium sized businesses would probably not be able to survive if they didn’t occasionally bribe officials. Big business considers bribes a perfectly normal cost of business anyway, especially when the business concerned involves milking tax cows. As you will see further below, the defense business – or better the war racket – is especially prone to corruption. Tax payers of course end up paying every cent. Another sector that is apparently subject to widespread corruption is health care – which should be no surprise, since health care provision is an almost fully socialistic enterprise in Europe. Bribes may well mean the difference between life and death in some instances. You will probably also not be overly surprised to learn that there was VAT fraud amounting to €5 billion in the bizarre and totally ineffective and useless ‘carbon credits’ market, which has turned into a boondoggle of amazing proportions. There’s simply no other way of making a mint in that market we suppose. From the BBC:
“The extent of corruption in Europe is “breathtaking” and it costs the EU economy at least 120bn euros (£99bn) annually, the European Commission says. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem has presented a full report on the problem.
She said the true cost of corruption was “probably much higher” than 120bn. Three-quarters of Europeans surveyed for the Commission study said that corruption was widespread, and more than half said the level had increased.
“The extent of the problem in Europe is breathtaking, although Sweden is among the countries with the least problems,” Ms Malmstroem wrote in Sweden’s Goeteborgs-Posten daily. The cost to the EU economy is equivalent to the bloc’s annual budget. For the report the Commission studied corruption in all 28 EU member states. The Commission says it is the first time it has done such a survey.
National governments, rather than EU institutions, are chiefly responsible for fighting corruption in the EU.
In some countries there was a relatively high number reporting personal experience of bribery. In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, between 6% and 29% of respondents said they had been asked for a bribe, or had been expected to pay one, in the past 12 months. There were also high levels of bribery in Poland (15%), Slovakia (14%) and Hungary (13%), where the most prevalent instances were in healthcare.
Last year Europol director Rob Wainwright said VAT fraud in the carbon credits market had cost the EU about 5bn euros.”
And that is merely what they actually know about. Remember, there are know unknowns and unknown unknowns here as well, and they probably dwarf what is actually known. One gets an inkling of how big the problem may really be when considering the case of Greece.
The EU corruption map according to the official report – via BBC.
Bribes Exceeding Greek Official’s Memory Storage Capacity
Greece is of course a special case in terms of official corruption. If you ever wondered how the country could go bankrupt in such short order after joining the euro zone, wonder no longer. Here are a few excerpts from a recent article in the NYTabout a lower level official in the defense ministry who received so many bribes that he cannot even remember them all anymore. The amounts involved are astonishing:
“When Antonis Kantas, a deputy in the Defense Ministry here, spoke up against the purchase of expensive German-made tanks in 2001, a representative of the tank’s manufacturer stopped by his office to leave a satchel on his sofa. It contained 600,000 euros ($814,000).
Other arms manufacturers eager to make deals came by, too, some guiding him through the ins and outs of international banking and then paying him off with deposits to his overseas accounts.
At the time, Mr. Kantas, a wiry former military officer, did not actually have the authority to decide much of anything on his own. But corruption was so rampant inside the Greek equivalent of the Pentagon that even a man of his relatively modest rank, he testified recently, was able to amass nearly $19 million in just five years on the job.”
One certainly wonders what more powerful officials were able to skim off. Unfortunately, corruption is so widespread and reportedly involves the highest echelons of the bureaucracy and the body politic in Greece, so that one must expect that we will never find out. No wonder there is a lot of tax evasion in Greece: who wants to hand over his hard earned money to such a gang of thieves? It is like paying off the mafia.
Meanwhile, the companies paying the bribes are of course just as guilty, and many of them come from countries that are themselves ranked relatively low on the corruption scale – e.g. Germany and Sweden. It seems to be an ‘opportunity makes thieves’ type situation.
“Never before has an official opened such a wide window on the eye-popping system of payoffs at work inside a Greek government ministry. At various points, Mr. Kantas, who returned to testify again last week, told prosecutors he had taken so many bribes he could not possibly remember the details.
Mr. Kantas’s testimony, if accurate, illustrates how arms makers from Germany, France, Sweden and Russia passed out bribes liberally, often through Greek representatives, to sell the government weaponry that it could ill afford and that experts say was in many cases overpriced and subpar.
The 600,000 euros, for instance, bought Mr. Kantas’s silence on the tanks, which were deemed of little value in any wars Greece might fight, according to Constantinos P. Fraggos, an expert on the Greek military who has written several books on the subject. Greece went ahead and bought 170 of the tanks for about $2.3 billion.
Adding to the absurdity of the purchase (almost all of it on credit), the ministry bought virtually no ammunition for them, Mr. Fraggos said. It also bought fighter planes without electronic guidance systems and paid more than $4 billion for troubled, noisy submarines that are not yet finished and sit today virtually abandoned in a shipyard outside Athens. At the height of the crisis, when it was unclear whether Greece would be thrown out of the euro zone and long before the submarines were finished, the Greek Parliament approved a final $407 million payment for the German submarines.”
The Defense Ministry is hardly the only ministry suspected of being a hotbed of corruption. But the Defense Ministry makes a particularly rich target for investigators because Greece went on a huge spending spree after 1996 when it got into a low-level skirmish with Turkey over the Imia islets in the Aegean Sea.
One former director general of the Defense Ministry, Evangelos Vasilakos, calculated that Greece spent as much as $68 billion on weaponry over the next 10 years, much of it borrowed money. To win these deals, which involved the approval of military and Defense Ministry officials, as well as Parliament, arms dealers probably spent more than $2.7 billion on bribes, according to Tasos Telloglou, an investigative reporter for the Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini, who has written extensively on the subject.”
Buying $68 billion worth of largely useless weaponry is certainly quite a feat for a country of slightly over 11 million inhabitants. The Saudis may well be able to top that on a per capita basis, but they have a lot of oil money and haven’t required a bailout from anyone. Greece was not able to actually afford these expensive toys.
Even if the weapons were in perfect working order, this buying spree wouldn’t make any sense. Is Greece really going to fight a war with Turkey, a NATO partner? The very idea is absurd. Since we can rule this possibility out, what on earth are the weapons good for?
We can hereby amend Randolph Bourne’s famous saying: ‘War is the health of the State – and its minions and suppliers‘.
Say hello to a white elephant in the Greek shrubbery.
(Image author unknown)