BERLIN (Reuters) - Hungary slid further down the global corruption league table this year, continuing a downward trend under rightwing leader Viktor Orban, who has exerted control over the courts and the media, watchdog Transparency International said on Tuesday.
The watchdog’s latest report on businesses’ perception of corruption put Hungary at just 45 on a scale of 0-100, three points below a year ago and 10 points down since 2012.
That means Hungary, a member of the European Union, is now perceived as more corrupt than Montenegro, a tiny former Yugoslav republic that has been told by Brussels it is not clean enough to join the bloc, Transparency International Director General Carl Dolan told Reuters.
“It’s slightly ironic that the EU is saying to Montenegro, ‘You can’t be a member because you’re too corrupt’, and yet you have a member like Hungary,” Dolan said.
Hungarian officials were not immediately available to comment.
The group said backsliding on the rule of law in Hungary could soon be matched in Poland, where another rightwing ruling party has taken similar steps to assert its control over institutions. That underscores the need for the EU to monitor corruption in all member states as it already does in newer EU states Romania and Bulgaria, it said.
Transparency International was also “deeply concerned” about the rise to power in Austria of the anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO), now a junior partner in Austria’s coalition government and in charge of the interior ministry, Dolan said.
Regular EU monitoring of how many corruption cases were prosecuted, and challenges to the rule of law, would help the EU track disturbing trends across Europe, Dolan said.
New Zealand and Denmark ranked highest on the index, with scores of 89 and 88, while Syria, South Sudan and Somalia ranked lowest with scores of 14, 12 and 9, TI said.
The average score for EU and western European countries was around 66, the group said. A score of 100 is considered “very clean”, while a score of zero is highly corrupt.
The EU last week told Montenegro and five other Western Balkan nations seeking membership that they must crack down more on corruption and implement difficult reforms before they can join the wealthy bloc. Montenegro’s score rose by one point to 46. Other Western Balkan states scored between 35 and 41.
The report found that a majority of the 180 countries and territories ranked on the index were moving too slowly in their efforts to combat pervasive public-sector corruption, with some countries showing little-to-no progress since 2012, when TI adopted a methodology that allowed better comparisons.
More than two-thirds of countries scored below 50 on the index, and the average score was 43, said TI, which has more than 100 chapters worldwide.
Some countries have significantly boosted their scores over the past six years, including Ivory Coast, Senegal and Britain, while scores fell sharply in Syria, Yemen and Australia.
TI said an analysis including data from the Committee to Protect Journalists showed an alarming correlation between high levels of corruption and violence against journalists.
It said more than 9 out of 10 journalists that were killed over the past six years were in countries that scored 45 or less on the index. One in five journalists died covering a story about corruption.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal