If we are to believe recent reports in the press, corruption in Europe is on the increase. In France, former president Jacques Chirac will finally have to confront allegations concerning the use of fictitious jobs to raise party funds during his time as mayor of Paris. In Spain, judges will be taking a closer look at bribery in the building industry, which fuelled extraordinary growth over recent years. In Portugal, an ex-minister has been charged with receiving kickbacks, while in Italy, not a week goes by without some new scandal emerging – though relatively few cases seem to make it into the courts. Bulgaria is facing ongoing criticism from Brussels, which wants it to do more in the fight against graft if it is to receive funds from the European Union, and in the Czech Republic, the weekly magazineRespektreports that clientalism and corruption have become "the norm."

Many of these affairs will serve to reinforce the clichéd view of Latin and Central European countries as wellsprings of corruption, which is consistently borne out by data from the NGO Transparency International, but that does not necessarily mean that other states are immune. Corruption is easy to discern when it splashed across the front pages of the national press, but it is also present in a much more diffuse form, that is far more difficult to eradicate, because it benefits from the silent complicity of citizens who are willing to look the other way, or even to re-elect politicians with a reputation for graft.

Overall the EU appears to be winning the battle against corruption, but it is still far from exemplary (only half of its 27 member states are included in the list of the 30 least corrupt countries). The communist countries can claim to have made progress over the last 20 years, which have been marked by radical change, however, the same is not true of countries like France, Italy and the UK. Given this context, one wonders if the EU is not asking too much when it demands that candidate countries for accession be beyond reproach. J.S.