Mark Mardell reports from Brussels for the BBC about this and that and has an absolutely blockbuster conclusion:
Corruption becomes a problem, not when the odd official can be bribed but when it becomes impossible to avoid and only holy fools refuse to play the game. On the way back from covering the Italian elections I read Tobias Jones's brilliant book, The Dark Heart of Italy.
I'm struck by the similarity between deep problems he identifies in Italy with what also seems true in Bulgaria. People do not respect the state but can cringe before authority. They believe, with some evidence, that politicians are crooks and this justifies their own cheating.
Heavy-handed bureaucracy is subverted by reliance on a clannish network of family and friends. But is it worse in Bulgaria than other parts of the world, even dare I say it, than the EU itself?
There are I think two different degrees in the way that governments and corruption go together - when they do that is. The first degree is one where the corruption is relatively harmless whereas in the second it is not.
The first, and less malign, form is one the expenditure side where politicians and bureaucrats award contracts to those who have bribed them and sometimes hand out unneccessary contracts to cronies who then pay them back. This is pretty much a universal feature of all governments and can generally speaking be minimized - though not completely eradicated - through openness and a reduction in government services. If you want a classic example of this kind of corruption consider the former Maire de Nice, Jean Medcin, and his bus stop scam: this was a scheme where he awarded contracts to his pals to build bus shelters around Nice, which sounds OK until you learn that the streets where the bus shelters were built were not on any bus routes. This, is as I say, less malign because while it does waste tax money it does result in activity and hence in employment etc. etc. and the money is at least returned to the comunity - indeed even the bribes paid to get the contracts eventually return to the community because the politician spends them on mistresses, houses, cars etc. In other words while it is clearly a good idea to stop the waste it isn't a complete disaster if some of it is undetected for a while.
The second, and definitely malign, form is where bribes need to be paid to get permission to do things. It doesn't really matter what the permission is, if you have to bribe someone to get something done then the corruption completely skews the operating environment and typically makes it very hard for the poor to get ahead because they don't have the connections. This severely (and negatively) impacts the economy because it means that otherwise econonimcally sound investments don't get made, it artificially raises the prices and acts as a hidden tax on business. It should not be surprising that countries where you have to bribe the customs official to let you import something tend to lag countries where you don't in economic growth.
The EU in Brussels is, at present, pretty much in level 1 as indeed are most of its members in the higher levels of government. Bulgaria and countries like China, Iran, Iraq, Russia etc. are at level 2 where bribery is a required part of doing business. This also applies to local governments in countries like Italy (or France in some cases) where local government permission or regulation is frequently required to operate a small business or expand it and where the choice is either to work on the "black" or to pay off some politician or bureaucrat to ensure that the permissions are granted and/or the inspections are passed. I don't think this is the only reason why Europe struggles economically but I do believe that it doesn't help and I also feel that it is something that the Eurocrats, governments and most commentators prefer to ignore when they try to identify reasons for why the USA is so robust economically.