August 5, 2012

PITY THEY MISSED OUT ON CALVINISM:

The Origins of Crisis : Corruption and Nepotism Haunt Southern Europe (Hans-Jürgen Schlamp, 7/31/12, Der Spiegel)

Today, some 144,000 Sicilians get their salary from the state, and one in eight of them is the head of something or other. Many administrative offices are full of people who have no idea what they're supposed to be doing.

When it comes to creating jobs, Sicily's politicians have shown impressive creativity. Some 27,000 people, for example protect the island's meager woodland, far more than the Canadian province of British Columbia employs to tend to its endless forests.

Sicily has in theory been entitled to some €20 billion in EU grants since 2000, but only a fraction of that money has been drawn. The region hasn't undertaken many projects that would be eligible for EU funding, and most of the money it did get was squandered. Motorway bridges without access roads and dams without water testify to the scandal. The mafia has made a killing.

When Sicily tried to finance bars and Christmas nativity scenes with EU funds, Brussels stopped the payout of €600 million. Now the island is at a loss for what to do. Alarmed at the €21 billion in debts Sicily has accumulated, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti wants to dispatch a controller and has demanded that the president of Sicily, Raffaele Lombardo, step down. The Sicilian government has retorted that Rome should pay up and stay out of it, or face a "civil war."

Commenting on the debacle, Rome daily La Repubblica said Sicily was turning into "Italy's Greece." And indeed, Greek -- or Sicilian -- practices can be found in all those southern European countries struggling under the debt crisis. They include using public jobs as election campaign munition, lucrative government contracts for friends and party supporters and political cronyism with deals made for mutual benefit. The true problem of the south isn't the economic and financial crisis -- it's corruption, waste and nepotism.

Countries like Germany and the Netherlands, of course, likewise have examples of incompetent administration, a sluggish justice system and politicians interested solely in preserving their own power. But such problems tend not to be symptomatic. They can disrupt the smooth running of the country and cost a lot of money, but they don't destroy the foundation of the state.

It's a different story in many regions of southern Europe. Employees, tradespeople and small businesses often have to spend more time defending themselves against mindless bureaucratic dictates than they do on running their businesses. Even IKEA, a global player, had to spend six years negotiating with municipal, provincial and regional authorities before it received permission to open a furniture store near the Tuscan city of Pisa.

The extent of corruption and waste seen in parts of the south would be considered intolerable north of the Alps.

Posted by at August 5, 2012 6:13 AM
  

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