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The Boston Globe

Business

Crisis-struck Europeans losing faith in governments

BERLIN — Less than 10 percent of people in the European countries hardest hit by the sovereign debt crisis believe that their leaders are doing a good job at fighting corruption, reflecting a crisis of faith in government since the crisis crippled much of the eurozone in 2008, an anticorruption group has found.

A global survey of people’s views on corruption by Transparency International, released on Tuesday, revealed a deep disconnect between elected leaders and the people they govern. Roughly half of the 114,000 people surveyed viewed political parties as the most corrupt institutions, and more than half think their governments are run by special interest groups, the survey showed.

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João Paulo Batalha, a board member at Transparency International in Portugal, pointed to the near-unraveling of the government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho last week as an example of how seeking to address his country’s problems by focusing solely on the fiscal aspect has led to the frustration reflected in the survey.

“I think the problem is deeper than that and it has to do not with the amount of money that the government has spent, but it has more to do with the way the government spends money,’’ Batalha said. “There are huge conflicts of interest between the public sector and the private sector. There are huge problems with wasteful spending that is not just wasteful because of incompetence, but because of corruption.’’

The Global Corruption Barometer is the widest survey conducted to date by the international corruption watchdog organization, based in Berlin. It asked people in 107 countries about their opinions of their governments and which institutions they see as the most corrupt.

Only 23 percent of those surveyed internationally believed that their government’s efforts to fight corruption were effective, down from 32 percent in 2008.

In Portugal, for example, only 8 percent expressed confidence in their leaders’ abilities to fight corruption. That compares with 21 percent in 2007, before the outbreak of the financial crisis.

Even in Europe’s more prosperous countries the mood has soured. Only 11 percent of Britons surveyed and 13 percent of Germans saw their government as effective in fighting corruption, both well below the global average of 22 percent.

While corruption remains most rampant in many of the world’s developing countries, where the survey found most people said they had to pay bribes to receive public services, the wealthier economic powers were not immune from corruption.

“In many countries there are no clear lobby regulations,’’ said Miklos Marschall, a director at Transparency International, who called on European countries to establish more clear codes of conduct and clear ethics declarations. “Nineteen out of 25 European countries do not regulate lobbying at all.’’

Across the globe, 51 percent of people surveyed saw political parties in their countries as the most corrupt institutions, followed by the police and the judiciary.

The media did not fare as badly, but it was seen as most corrupt in Australia and Britain. Some 69 percent said it was the most corrupt institution in Britain, up from 39 percent three years ago, reflecting the series of scandals around phone hacking and the Leveson Inquiry.

The Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the British press was set up after a scandal over phone-hacking at one of the newspapers of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, which has a strong grip on the media in both Australia and Britain.

Still, nearly 9 out of 10 people surveyed said they would act against corruption and two-thirds of those who were asked to pay a bribe had refused, suggesting that governments, civil society and the business sector need to do more to engage people in thwarting corruption, Transparency International said.

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