Improvements were made almost across the board for countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) in this year's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), with all but six of the region’s 30 nations showing improvements from last year.
This year's index, released by Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) on January 27, ranked 168 countries worldwide according to perceptions of public sector corruption, with perceived corruption rated on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).
In the post-communist landscape, the Baltic states performed the best, with Estonia ranked 23rd, Lithuania 32nd and Latvia 40th. Bottom in the region were Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which at 153rd and 154th sit just above the likes of Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea.
Amid US government claims that Russia's leadership under President Vladimir Putin has looted vast sums, the country came in 119th place. Despite coming in as the second lowest-ranking country in Europe, Russia actually saw a significant improvement in its ranking this year, climbing 17 places from last year’s index.
TI said that in Russia, "corruption goes hand-in-hand with repressions". Such an appraisal was partly reflected by the country's low placing in Freedom House's simultaneously released "Freedom in the World 2016" index. Awkwardly for Russia's international image, both indices were published in the same week as the airing of a controversial BBC programme alleging that Putin has covertly amassed a fortune worth billions of dollars for himself and his inner circle. The US government for the first time publicly accused Putin of corruption in the programme, which the Kremlin later branded "pure speculation and defamation", while demanding that the US furnish proof of the claims against the Russian leader.
Hungary and Poland – feared to be building an "illiberal axis" in Central Europe – both received harsh criticism in TI's report.
Poland in 30th place showed improvement for a fourth consecutive year, but TI warned of worrying political developments as the new Law and Justice (PiS) government busies itself by implementing many similar policies to those pursued in Budapest in recent years, which are likely to damage Poland's performance in future. PiS has drawn sharp criticism for its efforts to consolidate power since entering government in November, which include moves to increase their grip on the constitutional court and state media.
In low-scoring European countries, such as Hungary and Poland, “politicians and their cronies are increasingly hijacking state institutions to shore up power”, says Anne Koch, Tl's Europe director, in the report. She was even harsher on Budapest and Warsaw in comments to Euractiv. In Hungary it is not just state and executive power that is affected, but also freedom of the press, the justice system and civil society, she said.
Albania was the standout success in Southeast Europe, rising 22 places. A total of eight Southeast European countries improved their positions this year as governments across the region stepped up their fight against corruption, many motivated by the prospect of EU integration.
The substantial improvement in Albania’s score followed the launch of Prime Minister Edi Rama’s campaign against the informal economy in September 2015. The fight against corruption, tax evasion and money laundering in all segments of society is a priority for Rama’s government. Despite the improvement, Albania remained one of the lowest ranked countries in the SEE region, with only Kosovo and Moldova (tied in 103rd place) holding lower positions.
Turkey fell two places to 66th, making the third consecutive year of decline in its CPI, after ranking 64th in 2014 and 54th in 2013.
The Turkish authorities have failed to properly investigate corruption allegations in 2013 that targeted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inner circle, leading to the resignations of four ministers of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Erdogan dismissed the corruption investigations as a coup attempt to topple him and an international plot against Turkey.
Two of the world’s most isolated and corrupt countries – Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – surprisingly improved their rankings in the CPI. Turkmenistan, perceived as Central Asia’s most corrupt country, jumped 15 notches from the previous ranking to settle at 154th out of 168 countries, while its next-door neighbour Uzbekistan climbed 13 places to 153rd.
The CIS region’s best performer, Georgia, improved its position by two spots to occupy 48th place. Armenia, on the other hand, fell by one notch to 95th, while Mongolia jumped eight places to 72nd.