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Romania will be EU's most corrupt new member

Romania will be the European Union's most corrupt member when it joins the bloc on Januar 1, according to independent consultant Transparency International's annual report on corruption.

Romania received 3.1 points out of a maximum 10, slightly better than the 3 points it earned in 2005; it is more corrupt than neighboring Bulgaria, which will also join the EU on Januar 1, Berlin-based Transparency said in its report published yesterday. “This score must be interpreted as an alarm signal by officials in Bucharest in terms that more needs to be done to fight corruption,” Iulia Cospanaru, a Transparency consultant in Romania, said in a telephone interview. Bulgaria scored 4 points on the index, unchanged from 2005. The EU, whose existing members averaged 6.74 points in the listing, has told Romania and Bulgaria to do better in the fight against corruption or risk facing restrictions, such as exclusion from the EU's fast-track extradition system. “Romania has passed legislation to fight corruption, it's written out there, but the problem is that the perception of this change still doesn't exist at the level of the person at the counter,” Transparency's Cospanaru said. In March, Romania's parliament approved a law letting prosecutors extend corruption probes to legislators and ministers, who previously could claim immunity. Bulgarian lawmakers also backed constitutional amendments stiffening penalties and allowing the judiciary to try legislators. Romanian prosecutors in the past year started criminal probes against businesspeople, in several cases placing them under preventative arrest. Prosecutors also investigated politicians, mainly members of the former ruling coalition, though none have so far been sentenced for corruption. Bribery is a legacy of 45 years of communist rule in the nation of almost 22 million people, when a pack of coffee or cigarettes would be used to bribe a doctor in a medical emergency.

Since the end of communism in 1989, bribery in Romania has usually been paid in cash. Accepting a bribe carries penalties of up to five years in prison. The Health Ministry in September 2005 released a study funded by the World Bank that showed Romanians paid $360 million last year in bribes, or $1 million a day, for medical services that they were entitled to for free. The corruption index among the 15 Western European EU members averaged 7.71 points, while corruption among the 10 mainly former communist states that joined in 2004 averaged 5.3%, Transparency said. Greece ranks as the most corrupt among the old members of the EU, with 4.4 points, less than half of the 9.6 points earned by Finland, which Transparency ranks as the world's least corrupt country alongside Iceland and New Zealand. Among the 10 members that expanded the EU to 25 members in May 2004, Poland is the most corrupt, with 3.7 points, while Estonia is the least, with 6.7 points, Transparency said. Croatia, which wants to join the EU in 2009, is perceived as less corrupt than Romania, with 3.4 points, though more corrupt than Turkey, which has applied to join and which rated 3.8 points, Transparency said. (Bloomberg)