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EC report highlights extent of corruption in Italy

'Links between politics and the mob, low-integrity lawmakers'

03 February, 20:16
EC report highlights extent of corruption in Italy (By Stefania Fumo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 3 - The European Commission's first anti-corruption report revealed Monday that Italy has a high rate of graft due in part to a strong link between politics and organized crime.

Worsening matters is "the low level of integrity of elected representatives," the EC found. Both examples, it said, "are among the most worrying aspects, as evidenced by the high number of corruption investigations (in Italy)".

It also criticizes a new Italian anti-corruption law for "leaving unresolved" various problems by "not modifying the statute of limitations nor rules against false accounting and money-laundering, nor does it make trading votes a felony".

The report points out that Italy has much work to do to fight conflicts of interest in the government.

Among its recommendations is for Italy to "block the adoption of ad personam laws," which it said "on several occasions have impeded attempts" to guarantee swift trials. The EC report also called for for public officials to disclose their assets, and for more control mechanisms around local and regional public spending.

If Italy fails to act, it will further erode public confidence in the country's institutions, the report said.

"Corruption undermines citizens' faith in their institutions and damages the economy, depriving countries of tax revenues that are particularly necessary in this moment of crisis," European Home Affair Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in presenting the report. The report also found that corruption costs the overall European economy about 120 billion euros per year.

The Italian Audit Court recently found that corruption costs Italy roughly 60 billion euros per year. Corruption in large-scale infrastructure projects in Italy is estimated to account for 40% of the total value of the contracts, the EC report said.

It pointed to large public projects, like the post-earthquake reconstruction of the city of L'Aquila, Milan Expo 2015, and the future Turin-Lyon high-speed rail link are all at risk of "criminal infiltration" and "misappropriation of public funds".

The report placed suspicion of corruption on certain completed high-speed rail construction projects in Italy, noting that the costs were four to 10 times greater than other locations in Europe and Japan.

In Italy, construction costs for high-speed rail ranged from 47.3 million euros per km for the Rome-Naples link to 96.4 million euros per km for the Bologna-Florence link, and averaged 61 million euros per km overall.

In contrast, high-speed rail links such as Paris-Lyon and Madrid-Seville cost 10.2 million euros and 9.8 million euros per km, respectively.

The Tokyo-Osaka high-speed train cost 9.3 million euros per km, the EC said.

The report pointed out that the cost differences in themselves were "inconclusive", but could turn out to be indicators of "possible mismanagement" or "irregularities" in public procurement tenders.

The EC recommended more transparency in Italian public tenders, both before and after they are granted, noting that the same advice was among EC recommendations for Italy in July 2013.

The EC also included a survey showing 97% of Italians agree that corruption is widespread in their home country, against an EU average of 76%.

Nearly two out of three Europeans and 88% percent of Italian citizens believe that bribery and the use of connections are often the easiest way to obtain certain public services, the EC said.

In response, Filippo Patroni Griffi - undersecretary to Premier Enrico Letta - said that while Italy still has work to do to stem money laundering and to increase the penalties for crimes of corruption, it has already implemented some of the EC's recommendations.

"I'm thinking of the asset disclosure by public officials requirement, our law on party financing, and the national anti-corruption agency we are setting up. These have all been ratified into law", Patroni Griffi said.

"We also introduced a bill just a few days ago, that would severely restrict holding high office in the public and the private sector at the same time," he said.