Nearly all the countries of Eastern Europe made progress in improving the rule of law in 2018, according to the World Justice Project annual ranking “Rule of law index 2019”, but drilling into the subfactors big disparities persist.
The top performer from the 13 countries surveyed in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region was the progressive small republic of Georgia that keep its score unchanged at 0.61 and remained ranked at 41st place overall out of 126 counties surveyed.
The biggest improver in the region was Russia that moved up six places to an overall rank of 88 with a score of 0.47 but it remained near the bottom of its group. Neighbouring Ukraine also moved up four places to an over rank of 77 place with a score of 0.5 that puts it in the middle of the group.
And perhaps surprisingly Belarus was the best performing country from Eastern Europe at 66th place overall with a score of 0.52 and fifth best in the WJP regional ranking.
Uzbekistan is another eye-catcher that moved up two places but remains near the bottom of the global table at 94th place from 128th. That compares with its neighbour Kazakhstan that also moved up two places but is far higher placed – higher than any other country in Eastern Europe or Central Asia except Georgia – ranked 65th overall with a score of 0.52.
Turkey was by far the worst in the group and ranks 109 overall, with one of the worst performances in the world.
Drilling into the various factors that make up the index and Russia performs very poorly on the constraints on government such as the constitution, institutional checks and balances as well as non-government factors like a free press.
The authoritarian systems in most of Eastern Europe show up in this category the most as all the countries – even the most progressive on this score, Ukraine – rank below their overall scores, pulled down by their lack of democracy or functioning democratic institutions.
Russia scored a lowly 0.37 in this subcategory ranking it 112th out of 128 countries, just ahead of Belarus with 0.36. That compares to Ukraine’s 0.46 and 90th rank, which put it in the middle of the field. Again Kazakhstan performs better than Russia and Belarus with 0.43 and a rank of 100th, but less well than Ukraine.
The “lack of corruption” subfactor threw up some bigger surprises with Russia outperforming all the other counties in its region with a score and rank of 0.45 and 68th – both much better than its overall results.
Since the 2014 economic crisis, the cash strapped Russian government has been vigorously cracking down on lower level corruption in the hunt for fresh capital. There has been a revolution in the tax service that saw tax revenues jump by 20% in 2018, despite the fact that the tax base remains unchanged.
By comparison Ukraine performed very poorly according to the WSJ survey with a score of 0.33 and ranking 108th, putting it near the worst in the world.
Belarus did remarkably well with 0.55 at 47th place, while Kazakhstan was again in the middle of the global rank (0.47, 61st), but ahead of its peers in Russia and Ukraine.
Russia’s strong showing stands in stark contrast with Transparency International’s (TI’s) most recent ranking that handed the “most corrupt country” in Eastern Europe title back to Russia after it slipped three places to 138th out of 180 countries surveyed, while Ukraine improved rising ten places to 120, as bne IntelliNews reported in January in “HEATMAP: Russia and Ukraine battle it out for title of most corrupt country in Europe.”
The difference could be attributed to the fact that the TI survey is a “corruption perception survey” that simply polls panellists’ impressions rather than trying to objectively measure corruption.
Amongst the other subfactors the contrasts continue. In the limited scope of “fundamental human rights” the countries scored: Ukraine (0.61, 50th), Belarus (0.47, 94th), Kazakhstan (0.46, 95th), and Russian (0.45, 104th) in that order.
Shockingly several of the countries out performed even the US in the “order and security” category. However, this should not be a surprise, as Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group argued in his book “The J Curve” that authoritarian societies often produce more stability and security but underperform on economic potential thanks to the heavy policing of their states. Democratic societies, by contrast, can be more chaotic, but they allow for more innovation and prosperity. To highlight the point Uzbekistan, which is only now emerging from its pariah status under the boot of its dictatorial former president Islam Karimov, has emerged as the ninth best country in the world (0.91, 9th) for order and security.
The US scored (0.76, 49th) on order and security, well behind Belarus (0.81, 27th) and Kazakhstan (0.78, 37th) but ahead of Ukraine (0.73, 60th) and Russia (0.66, 86th).
On “regulatory enforcement” Kazakhstan leads (0.51, 63th) with Belarus close behind (0.5, 65th) – both in the middle of the global field. Russia (0.49, 72nd) is not too far behind but Ukraine is down near the bottom of the list (0.42, 103rd).