Ninety-seven percent of Italians think that corruption is rife, second only to Greece with 99 percent and well above the European average of 76 percent, the European Commission report found.
Bribery and connections are the easiest ways to get certain public services, 88 percent of Italians believe, compared to 73 percent of Europeans.
People in Italy, however, are more optimistic than those in Greece, where 93 percent of the population believe bribery is the easiest way to get what you want, compared to 92 percent in Cyprus and 89 percent in Slovakia and Croatia.
Despite being perceived as one of the most corrupt countries in the region, Italy’s anti-corruption law adopted in November 2012 was a “significant step forward” according to the European Commission. But more than a year after the law came into force, “corruption remains a serious challenge in Italy” the EU report said.
The EU’s executive body highlighted Italy’s statute of limitations, through which certain crimes “expire” after a certain number of years, as a key area to overhaul. “The deficiencies of the statute of limitation regime should be addressed without delay,” the European Commission said.
This legal anomaly has, for example, allowed a number of cases against billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's three-time prime minister, to expire before a definite verdict has been reached. Berlusconi’s first conviction at Italy’s highest court – after exhausting all appeals – came in August 2013 for tax fraud.
A further recommendation by the European Commission also points to the former premierships of Berlusconi, who during his time in office maintained control over vast areas of Italian business and media.
“More efforts are required with regard to conflicts of interest and asset disclosure of public officials,” the report said.
More broadly, the European Commission called for greater control mechanisms around public spending following a number of recent expenses scandals in Italy. More than 500 regional councillors are currently under investigation, 97 of which are in Sicily and 92 in Milan’s Lombardy region.
Unsurprisingly, the report said Italy must “strengthen the integrity regime for elected officials through ethical codes, including accountability tools”.
But despite failures in the anti-corruption fight, Italy is making progress in some areas. The report called on the government to “reinforce the legal and institutional framework on party funding,” a point already being addressed by Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
In December, Letta stated that public funding of political parties would be scrapped, two months after MPs voted for the change.
Italy will likely be the focus of greater attention this year, as the country leads the G20’s anti-corruption working group and in the second half of 2014 takes over the EU presidency.