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CRIME

Italy still seen as one of Europe’s most corrupt countries

Despite continued improvements, Italy ranked among the worst in Europe - again - when it comes to perceived corruption in an annual index by Transparency International.

Italy still seen as one of Europe's most corrupt countries
Rome city councillors hold banners reading "Honesty, Transparancy, Conspiracy of silence" as they protest alleged corruption in 2016. Photo: AFP

Italy once again ranked among the most corrupt countries in Europe on the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released by anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International on Tuesday.

The index ranks 180 countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption. The results are given on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Italy’s score of 56/100 puts it 42nd out of 180 countries on the list, and among the countries in the European Union perceived as most corrupt along with Slovenia (which scored 57) and Poland (56).

Ranked worst among all European Union member states was Hungary, at 43rd place with a score of 53.

The index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived (not actual) levels of public sector corruption, using a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.

READ ALSO: Venetians protest cruise ships and corruption after historic flooding

Though Italy has long been perceived as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, the latest edition of the annual study shows things have in fact improved again this year.

Italy has improved its ranking by three points since scoring 53/100 in last year’s index.

The rankings show improvement over the past decade, as Italy ranked 42nd on the list in 2012.

Transparency International said in its report that Italy’s improvement this year “is the result of the growing attention paid to the problem of corruption in the last decade, and bodes well for the country’s economic recovery after the crisis generated by the pandemic”.

Italy had “reaped the rewards of anti-corruption reforms” over the past year, it said, while stressing that it remains among the European region’s low scorers.

“Legislative gaps need to be urgently filled for lobbying and beneficial ownership in Italy,” Transparency International said.

According to the report, Italians believe the two most corrupt institutions in the country are political parties and parliament itself.

At the top of the table, Denmark, New Zealand and Finland share the desirable position of world’s least corrupt country, followed by Norway and Singapore.

Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany complete the top 10.

With an average score of 66 out of 100, Western Europe and the EU still tops the CPI but progress in recent years has plateaued, the report stated.

“Countries in Western Europe and the European Union continue to wrestle with transparency and accountability in their response to Covid-19, threatening the region’s clean image,” Transparency International writes.

The organisation on Tuesday predicted “trouble ahead for the stagnating region”.

Countries with well-protected civil liberties generally score higher on the CPI, while countries who violate civil liberties tend to score lower, Transparency International writes.

READ ALSO: 12 statistics that show how the pandemic has hit Italy’s quality of life

But even at the top end of the index, countries are failing to improve their records on public sector corruption, according to the report.

The index also noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had been used in some countries as an excuse to “curtail basic freedoms and side-step important checks and balances”.

“In authoritarian contexts where control rests with a few, social movements are the last remaining check on power. It is the collective power held by ordinary people from all walks of life that will ultimately deliver accountability,” CEO Daniel Eriksson said on the Transparency International website.

According to the index, 131 countries have made no significant progress against corruption in the last decade. Two-thirds of countries scored below 50, indicating that they have serious corruption problems, while 27 countries are at their lowest score ever.

The Corruption Perceptions Index is the most widely-used global corruption ranking in the world and measures how corrupt experts and businesspeople perceive each country’s public sector to be, based on a minimum of three data sources drawn from institutions including the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.

It does not relate to corruption in the private sector, including money laundering and tax fraud.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: If you want quality of life, choose Italy’s sunny south over the efficient north

Northern cities may consistently top the 'quality of life' rankings, but the true pleasures of life in Italy can’t always be measured, says reporter Silvia Marchetti.

OPINION: If you want quality of life, choose Italy’s sunny south over the efficient north

Italy has a persistent dichotomy that strikes anyone who has travelled it extensively or lived here for a while.

There’s a huge gap between the quality of life as in efficient services, roads, good internet, and the ‘pleasures of life’, which come down to more immaterial and intangible aspects such as the hospitality and friendliness of locals, the beauty of surroundings, and overall cost of living.

READ ALSO: The Italian towns with the best (and worst) quality of life

All quality of life surveys usually rank more efficient, cleaner northern cities at the top, with sunny but less functional southern ones at the bottom – though on the other hand these have stunning beaches and cheaper services.

While it’s obviously not always so simple, there are differences which are clear to see.

To take two examples: in northern Bolzano you have punctuality, shiny roads, higher income levels, but also a bit of the stereotypical Teutonic cold, distant attitude. In Syracuse, Sicily, local food is more varied and most people are warm, open to strangers, but trains take ages to connect places, and the roads aren’t great either.

This makes it hard to say which towns are ‘best’ to live in because you just can’t have it all. It depends on what your expectations and lifestyle already are, or if you long for radical change.

READ ALSO: Why north-south stereotypes aren’t offensive to most Italians

I could never live in Turin, Milan or Venice – because of the weather, the crowds and the prices.

Were I to choose, I’ve always dreamt of relocating to a southern location to telework, either in Sicily (picturesque Palermo) or Puglia (gorgeous, Baroque Lecce). Even a tiny Sicilian island fascinates me, like Salina or Filicudi, but I might find too much isolation there as winters can get really solitary when the ferry boats don’t travel. 

I’ve always envied Sicilians who get to enjoy beach days and warm temperatures eight months a year, have a succulent cuisine and can eat the real ricotta-filled cannoli whenever they feel like it. 

Last time I visited Trapani and stayed there for a while the next door neighbor gave me a tray of pastries on the day of my departure. People welcome you in their homes and say ‘buongiorno’ when you meet them in the streets. 

Human warmth is almost tangible in the south whereas in the north, perhaps because there are bigger cities, you need to be in small towns or villages to find welcoming residents eager to help you or make you feel at home. 

READ ALSO: From coffee to haircuts: How the cost of living varies around Italy

The fact that the value of family is so important in the south, much more than in the north, explains why southerners are more open to outsiders and foreigners than in the north. 

Cities like Naples, Lecce and Palermo also have a more laid-back vibe, people are less frenetic than in Milan and seem to enjoy life more. This attitude affects the way visitors feel, too. 

People don’t just want clean roads, trains that run on time, efficient hospitals. A smile from a passer-by, a gift, or just a quick chat after a morning espresso can really make your day. Cities reflect the nature of their inhabitants. 

Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

I remember once I was touring Sicily heading to Noto, we stopped for some water at a bar in the middle of the countryside and my friend tripped, falling down. In less than a second a bunch of elders who had seen the accident rushed to our side and helped my friend back on her feet, making sure I was okay too. 

Taxi rides can be quite enlightening. When you grab a taxi in Milan, Genoa or Trieste, don’t expect the driver to start talking to you unless it’s for specific information. But when I visited Naples and called a cabbie, he turned into my personal Virgil, sharing city secrets and taking me to see offbeat places along the coast. He sang and smiled, which he wasn’t required to do. It was a memorable ride. 

READ ALSO: Why are Italy’s disappearing dialects so important?

However, it’s hard to draw a line. I’m not saying that all northern cities have a poor ‘pleasure of life’ level and all southern ones rank low for life quality, but this is a general trend. 

And I believe Italy’s eternal north-south dilemma is here to stay. 

The European Union’s pandemic funds, partly aimed at reducing these regional gaps, might improve services in the south but they surely can’t turn a gloomy, stressed-out Milanese into a loud, cheerful Neapolitan.

The economic gap (which affects quality of life) between northern and southern cities will always persist. That’s what makes Italy such a rich, multifarious country.

Do you agree with the opinions expressed in this article? How did you choose between the north and south of Italy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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