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Talking Germany

Blog with Peter Craven

The soft-spoken warrior, Peter Eigen

Or: the scourge of corruption

Is corruption always bad? “There are no absolutes. If your wife is being held in a concentration camp, then you might be tempted to bribe the guard. But in general what corruption does is that it eats away at trust. It’s bad for business and bad for politics.” The man speaking ought to know. For many years, Peter Eigen – my latest guest on Talking Germany – has been at the forefront of international efforts to combat corruption.
“The typical kind of thing that you see is that a country introduces a widespread education campaign. Very good, you think. But then you discover that the wife of the minister behind the project has at the same time opened a publishing house. And that publishing house is producing all the books used in the project. It’s corruption. And it plays havoc with the system.”

What about inviting a business partner out for dinner? Is that ok? “Well,” says Peter Eigen, “things have changed in the corporate world and people are getting very cautious.” It was, he tells me, “the Americans who led the way with the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” Did others follow? “Initially, many didn’t: they just enjoyed the competitive advantage of having some of their major rivals out of the way. But things have moved on since then.” One of the big turning points was the creation, by Peter Eigen, of Transparency International in 1993. Headquartered in the German capital Berlin, the organization has set international anti-corruption benchmarks.

So how, I wonder, is Germany doing in all this? “Not too bad domestically. Germany is in 12th spot in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. But it’s a different picture when it comes to German businesses operating abroad, with around 120 companies under investigation for possible suspicion of involvement in corruption.” And, Peter Eigen adds, “It’s German politicians who are the real scandal because Germany is one of very few countries in the world that has not ratified controls on politicians being immune from prosecution for corruption.” The soft-spoken anti-corruption warrior clearly still has some more battles to win.


December 27, 2013