Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


The EU is a hotbed of corruption

under_table_bribe_1600_wht_9467Leaving aside the allegations that the President of the European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, was  party to Luxembourg’s notorious tax-avoidance schemes, which attracted companies like Amazon and Pepsi-Cola, when he was Finance Minister then PM, there is something rotten in the EU.

Bojan Pancevski’s piece in the Sunday Times this week spelled out its extent.

Hungary, one of the first countries to allow escapees from East Germany to cross its borders into Austria, and originally hailed as an example of new democracy, has recently turned its back on liberalism – President Orban talks of a shift to “an illiberal state” – and adopted an authoritarian form of government with close ties to Russia. And corruption is so widespread that the USA has imposed a travel ban on six senior Hungarian officials over allegations of corruption – even though they are partners in NATO.

Slovenia joined in 2004 after emerging from the Balkan conflict. Originally praised for its successful liberal economy an economic development it was the first eastern european nation to meet the criteria to join the euro currency. Now the economy is struggling and corruption seems rife. The former Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who as in power when they joined the EU, is now serving a 2-year jail sentence for corruption. His successor is also under investigation after nominating herself to become a member of the European Commission.

Romania and Bulgaria are both under special scrutiny by the EU as each year they fail to make progress in curbing organised crime and corruption and to establish an independent judiciary. In Romania 30 lawmakers have been prosecuted or jailed for failing to take action against corrupt officials and for pressurising the judiciary. In neighbouring Bulgaria three governments fell in one year in the face of public protests about corruption.

Croatia, the latest country to join the EU, is also struggling with bribery and bad governance. The former Prime Minister, Ivo Sander,  who steered the country into the EU is serving an 8-year sentence for corruption.

There doesn’t seem to be much the EU can do. Once you’re in the EU club you’re in for life it seems (although British eurosceptics might wish it weren’t so).

The candidates for membership of the EU promise to be good democratic. law-abiding countries. Once they’re in the facade slips and the influence of decades of dictatorship re-surfaces.

Let’s not forget that Portugal, Spain and Greece were all ruled by dictators until the 1970s but they don’t seem as bad as the new boys on the block. Hungary and Bulgaria are keen to allow the construction of a gs pipeline from Russia – something the EU has previously stopped.

It’s not all bad news. The three Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all former soviet republics, have done better (although corruption is still around with EU monies ending up in companies set up by MPs and their families).

Poland, the biggest of the new members, has done well economically and its citizens have a reputation for hard work. (The Poles have the highest employment rate (80%) of any nationality in England & Wales  including the Brits). Its President Donald Trusk has been appointed to the post of President of the European Council.

And it’s Poland, and the Baltic countries – who appreciate their hard-earned independence in 1991, who are urging a hard line against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.




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EU in a stew over Hungary

Hungary has just taken over the presidency of the EU for the next six months and already its hard-line Prime Minister has been criticised for introducing legislation seen as undemocratic – such as giving his government control over the media to maintain “balance”.

The German socialists are particularly unhappy with Mr Orban because of this and the European Commission is investigating it. The leader of the German Greens said Oban didn’t understand that the EU was; “born in a struggle against totalitarianism and liberty is freedom of expression”. The Hungarian Prime Minister, who opposed Soviet rule in Hungary, was unimpressed at being criticised by Germany.

Hungary marked the start of their presidency by sending over a huge (210 sq m)  carpet to be laid in the atrium of the Council of Europe’s HQ.The design depicts an historical timeline and shows Kings, artists, composers, scientists, and inventions like the ballpoint pen (invented by Lazlo Biro).

Unfortunately an 1848 map in the middle of the carpet shows Hungary as it was when it ruled over Slovakia, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Transylvania, and Romania (reflected in the old coat of arms).

This didn’t go down too well and an Austrian MEP even claimed that Hungary wanted to overthrow the 1920 Treaty of Trianon which forced it to give up 2/3 of its empire at the end of WWI.

Mr Orban’s government is popular – it was elected by a 2/3 majority –  and apparently many Hungarians have car stickers showing Greater Hungary. Hungary also upset its neighbours by offering citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in other countries.

Hungary is not alone in wishing to turn back the clock. Relations between Poland and Lithuania are strained. Poland supported Lithuania in the 1991 revolution but now Lithuanians are annoyed that Polish tourists in the capital Vilnius often refer to it as their capital Wilno and complain when locals don’t speak to them in Polish (the older generations tend to speak Russian as their second language  whilst the younger ones speak English) and that Lithuanian buses now have to have signs in Polish. On the other hand Poland complains that Lithuania is not offering Polish lessons in schools – which Lithuania categorically denies.

I have heard Russian tourists in Vilnius complain that it is full of Poles and some Poles still consider Lviv in Ukraine to be theirs too so it’s not always so friendly in post-soviet countries.

Hungarians are not unused to controversy and getting round the rules. In the 1940s the Russians set up Comecon (Council for mutual economic assistance) to coordinate economic relations across the soviet bloc and to centrally plan production. So each country was told what it could produce and what it couldn’t. Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania were allowed to make cars but Hungary was forbidden to. Although it had no existing car industry having a national vehicle was considered a symbol of patriotism in eastern Europe.

So Hungary found a solution using a Magyar speciality known as the “little gate” or kiskapu. When one door closes another opens, especially if lubricated by money. So under communism if X was forbidden but something similar to X but not actually the same thing was permitted – because it wasn’t banned. So Hungary produced a microcar: an enclosed vehicle with a petrol engine, steering wheel and gears, but which wasn’t an actual car because it was too small. And because it wasn’t a car to reverse it you had to stop the engine and start it again in reverse.

The cars were launched at the May Day Parade in1956 to great acclaim. Soon private inventors and engineers were designing a range of Magyar microcars; one was so small with a 50cc engine it was called the “motorised shoe”. One car was sponsored by the Ministry of Light Industry but unknown to the Ministry of Heavy Industry. One car had a body made from chicken feathers, pigs’ blood and shellac. Motorbike engines of different sizes were used and some could reach speeds of 80 kph.