Countries praised by the European Commission for experiencing little or no corruption at home are failing to stop their own companies paying bribes overseas, raising concerns that the squeaky-clean reputations enjoyed by much of Scandinavia and northern Europe may be tarnished by a different standard of conduct abroad.
In early February 2014, the European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, released the Union’s first EU Anti-Corruption Report. It reported that that Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden had the lowest experiences of bribery in the European Union, with less than 1% of respondents in those countries expecting to pay a bribe. These countries also earn stellar marks from Transparency International, whose widely cited Corruption Perceptions Index ranks them among the most upright nations in the world.
Yet media investigations, criminal prosecutions and successive reports by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), reveal that the same countries rarely prosecute and fine domestically-registered and even state-controlled companies suspected of paying bribes in across Asia, Africa, South America and Europe.
This disparity has raised concerns that the sunshine in European nations lauded for their transparency may not extend beyond their shores – and that some of the most influential organizations that are measuring corruption may only be telling half the story.