more on: corruptionPaul Romerrules

Corruption in Romania

+ Brandon Fuller

Former Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase claims his recent conviction on corruption charges was a “political game” orchestrated by his rivals. Though there appears to be little doubt that he was in fact corrupt, Nastase’s claim of political persecution is a reminder that countries with high-level corruption are also likely to be places where powerful politicians can use the courts to take down their enemies.

In such settings, any government agency that is strong enough to prosecute corruption risks capture by one political faction or another—a faction that can then make use of selective prosecution for political gain. Even if the process is fair, officials like Nastase will claim that their prosecutions are politically motivated.

Corruption in Romania is bad enough that the rest of Europe appears to be keeping it at arms length. From The New York Times story:

The European Union, with 27 member nations, is so concerned about creeping lawlessness among its new members that Romania and its neighbor Bulgaria, which both entered in 2007, have not joined the bloc’s passport/visa-free travel area. On Thursday, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, said concerns about corruption and fraud in Romania had prompted it to block E.U. development aid, potentially worth billions of euros.

Yet Romania’s EU membership might be useful for shifting from a high-corruption equilibrium to a low one. The story of Nastase’s corruption trial reminded me of a piece that Paul wrote for VoxEU back in 2010. He argued that Greeks could leverage their membership in the EU to attack corruption without letting national politics get in the way:

Because of its membership in the EU, Greece has an option that is not available to most other countries in the world. By leveraging the credibility of the EU, Greece can begin the same sort of transformative fight against corruption that Hong Kong embarked on in the 1970s. If the EU can ensure that the appointment process to an anti-corruption commission is free of political influence, Greeks could remove the corruption tax without disrupting the political equilibrium.The process could be structured in many different ways. For example, Greek political parties and members of civil society could propose names for head anti-corruption commissioner. The president of the EU could then make an appointment from the list, retaining the power to remove, replace, or reappoint the commissioner. Like a central banker, the head commissioner could have a clear mandate and wide discretion for achieving it, particularly in hiring and firing commission staff. The mandate could focus on the future, following the example of Hong Kong and specifying amnesty for past corruption.The involvement of the EU could expire with a sunset clause. The clause might be based on a supra-majority vote in a referendum. The clause could also be triggered by objective indicators of performance, such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index or the World Bank’s Control of Corruption measure.

It seems that Romanians could adopt this sort of strategy to clean up their government as well. Or perhaps the EU could make further integration contingent on it’s adoption. Either way, if an EU-based anti-corruption commission sends a politician to jail, the cries of political persecution are likely to ring especially hollow.

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