The 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released today by Transparency International (TI), reveals a continued failure of most countries to curb corruption, leading to what it terms a worldwide crisis of democracy. While Western Europe and the EU remains the best-scoring region, Hungary lies third from bottom within it.
The 2018 index draws on 13 surveys and assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories according to experts and businesspeople, giving each a score from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), according to the TI website.
More than two-thirds of countries score below 50 on this year’s CPI, with an average score of just 43. Denmark and New Zealand top the index with 88 and 87 points, respectively.
Fourteen of the top 20 countries on this yearʼs index are from the region of Western Europe and the European Union (EU), in which the average score is 66. In this region, top-ranked Denmark is closely followed by Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, which each score 85.
At the bottom of the region, Bulgaria scores 42, dropping one point since last year, followed by Greece (45), and Hungary (46).
“In the last few years, several countries have seen a rise in power of political leaders with populist tendencies, working to raise citizens’ fear of targeted groups,” notes the accompanying report. “In particular, several countries have harnessed anti-immigration sentiment to promote and justify undemocratic principles.”
Highlighting Hungary and Poland, TI says populist rhetoric in both countries is often used to discredit public scrutiny.
“In both countries, democratic institutions and values are at risk, and the government continually interferes and challenges the independence of both the media and judicial system,” it says. “There are also several cases where the media is used in both countries to portray activists and independent thinkers as enemies of the nation, which deepens existing divisions among citizens and takes public focus away from politicians.”
The report notes that Hungary has fallen on the index by nine points over the last seven years, moving from 55 in 2012, to 46 in 2018.
“This significant change reflects a deterioration of democracy, as well as a rapidly shrinking space for civil society and independent media,” TI observes.
Cross-analysis with global democracy data - gleaned from the Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) - reveals a link between corruption and the health of democracies, notes TI. Put simply, the more healthy the democracy, the better its score on the corruption index.
Exemplifying this trend, the report notes the sharply decreasing corruption index scores for Hungary and Turkey in particular over the last five years. At the same time, Turkey has been downgraded from “partly free” to “not free,” while Hungary has registered its lowest score for political rights since the fall of communism in 1989.
Overall, TI concludes that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis in democracy around the world. While there are exceptions, the data shows that, despite some progress, most countries are failing to make serious inroads against corruption.
“With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe – often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies – we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” says Patricia Moreira, Managing Director of Transparency International. “Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption.”