Corruption and Political Power from a Comparative Area Perspective

The comparative politics section of the German Association of Political Science recently held its annual meeting at the University of Leipzig from October 9-11. One of the panels at the conference was entitled “Corruption and Political Power from a Comparative Area Perspective”, and drew researchers from throughout Europe. Three ANTICORRP researchers attended the panel discussion: rof. Dr. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Hertie School of Governance, Dr. Christian von Soest, of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg, Germany, as well as Dr. Thomas Richter, also from GIGA.

All five papers presented in the panel put corruption, traditionally understood as the “misuse of public office for private gain”, in a broader perspective and set out to relate this phenomenon to other political, economic, social and regional factors. Four of the papers applied quantitative methods, whereas the fifth, Luana Martin’s (Viadrina University Frankfurt/Oder) “Corrupting Anti-Corruption Reform: Judicial Reform and the Fight against Corruption in Romania since January 2007” presented results from a single-case analysis. Her contribution as well as Mihály Fazekas (University of Cambridge) et al.’s paper, “Curse of EU funds in Central and Eastern Europe? On how EU funds impact on grand corruption”, and Ina Kubbe’s (Leuphana University Lüneburg) article, “Is it all about profit? Corruption in European Comparative Perspective”, specifically focused on the European region and the effects of EU policies.

All contributions dealt with the determinants and indicators of corruption to overcome the often-unquestioned use of existing data in mainstream research. To move beyond commonly-used perception-based indicators, Mascha Rauschenbach (University of Mannheim), in her analysis of “Incumbency Status and Poverty Levels in Constituencies: The Strategic Use of Local Campaign Promises in Ghana’s 2012 Elections”, hand-coded particularistic promises made in presidential campaign speeches, while Fazekas et al. collected comprehensive “objective” data on fraud in public procurement in East European EU member states.

In addition, preliminary results from Sabrina Maaß, Thomas Richter and Christian von Soest’s (GIGA) analysis, “Comparing Corruption around the World: Are There Area-Specific Trends?”, indicate that the determinants of corruption vary between different world regions, a finding that is in line with other assessments from the EU-funded ANTICORRP project and which warrants further analysis. A fundamental point raised by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a discussant at the conference, and other scholars present was the need for clear theoretical models on potential causal mechanisms related to the incidence and the reduction of corruption. The panel demonstrated that the move to put corruption in a broader perspective and to focus on its determinants and indicators represents a promising route to provide new insights to the scholarly debate about corruption.