The pandemic has worsened corruption across the European Union, an anti-graft watchdog said Tuesday. Bribes and a lack of transparency in healthcare acquisitions were cited as the main issues of concern.
Transparency International said bribery rates in the health sector were worst in Romania and Bulgaria.
Elsewhere, citizens said they sometimes had to rely on personal connections to get medical care.
The anti-graft watchdog surveyed more than 40,000 people in the EU’s 27 member states between October and December 2020.
In Romania 22 percent said they paid kickbacks. Nineteen percent gave kickbacks in Bulgaria, the annual report of people’s perceptions of corruption in the EU found.
In the Czech Republic 54 percent said they needed personal connections to get health services, and Portugal in 46 percent.
Overall, the report found that 29 percent needed favors or well-connected friends and family to access public sector healthcare last year.
Six per cent of respondents said they actually paid a bribe.
„Healthcare, in particular, has been a corruption hotspot as governments struggled to manage the Covid-19 pandemic,” Transparency International said.
In France, Poland and Spain, 60 percent of respondents said their governments weren’t handling the pandemic properly.
The report said Hungary and Poland were using the crisis as a pretext “to undermine democracy.” The countries put in place regulations that undermined democratic institutions.
Beyond the health crisis, the survey found that a third of EU residents think corruption is generally getting worse in their country.
„There are many immediate actions that can be taken,” said Michael van Hulten, Transparency International EU director.
He said transparency in lobbying practices at an EU and national levels and tackling tax avoidance were issues that needed to be addressed.