Ambassador of Denmark to Hungary Tom Nørring (right) was invited to share his views on corruption and offered some insight into why the Danes seem to be immune to the temptation. Following are excerpts from his speech.
Corruption is broadly defined as abusively exploiting entrusted power/funds for personal gain. It’s bribery, illegal payments and facilitation payments, the last one sometimes legal, sometimes not!
Corruption violates everyone whose life, daily activities and happiness depends on the integrity of authorities and public officials. It threatens stability and safety and undermines democratic institutions and values, and still corruption is widespread across the world.
As you may know Transparency International concluded in their 2012 study that Denmark, along with New Zealand and Finland, is the least corrupt country in the world. In fact Denmark has always ranked as a country of low corruption. As an official representative of my country, I am, of course, proud of that.
But why is it that Denmark continuously tops the statistics of being one of the least corrupt countries in the world? It seems that Danes are not very willing neither to pay bribes nor to accept them. But is it simply because Danes are better people, more moral people than other nations? Is it something in our genes, inherited to us by our anti-corrupt ancestors?
No, Danes are not immune to corruption-like behaviour as such. But we have over the years developed a tradition, a culture which makes it more natural to take a certain high moral or ethical stance.
The main reason for this stance is, in my view, that we in Denmark have a very high degree of trust in other people and in the system. This trust is strengthening and supporting our entire integrity system.
Over the years we have developed a welfare system – the so-called ‘Danish Model’ – which is an important part of the Danish integrity system. Fair working conditions, social security, health arrangements, decent salaries and pension schemes are among the things that contribute to giving the Danes reasonable living conditions. The fact that it is possible to live on one’s salary, that people are protected if they get sick and likewise if they are fired makes it easier to refrain from corruption.
In Denmark we have a high tax burden that contributes to maintaining our welfare state. This means that Danes do not have to pay for their children to go to primary school or high school and they do not save for years to put their children through university. They do not need insurance to go to the hospital, get medication or see a doctor, and if they lose their job, relatively generous unemployment benefits are supplied by a combination of insurance and public funds. The elderly do not need insurance and do not have to pay out of their pocket to get necessary help with cleaning or personal assistance, and most of the costs associated with day care for children are also tax-financed. In other words one does not have to put money aside for bad times, as you will be provided for.
The high pressure of taxation in Denmark also contributes to the unwillingness to pay even more for, for instance, social benefits than has already been paid. Danes expect a fair treatment without paying extra.
In Denmark we have a very inclusive political culture as well, and both public and private institutions are highly transparent, which makes it easier to hold for instance politicians or companies responsible for irregularities.
The media has a very defining role in the Danish integrity system and is sometimes referred to as the fourth power of the state, which has the role of watching over the other three, making sure they behave.
Another contributor to the low level of corruption is the intensified focus on Corporate Social Responsibility that Denmark has experienced recently. To have an anti-corruption strategy as a part of the company’s CSR strategy is important as it functions as a trade mark for companies. In recent years Danes have had a more political focus when shopping – the social responsibility of the producers of the products they buy is important to many Danish consumers.
Good business behaviour is expected and it is a social responsibility that is expected by the consumer. In order to remain competitive in Denmark, businesses must adhere to this.
Danish companies are to a large extent export oriented. And the Danish export companies are to a still larger degree operating in markets where corruption is more widespread than in our traditional export markets. In these “new” markets the companies, and their employees, are increasingly facing situations where they are pressed to either receive or give bribes.
So the question is: how do we deal with these challenges? I mean, looking at it from a purely business point of view, the companies that don’t “play the game” run the risks of losing income, losing market shares, that other companies – with lower ethical or moral standards – will immediately pick up. I recognise that this is a risk.
I would, however, argue that in the long run responsible behaviour will give our companies a positive branding which will ensure that they can remain in the markets – with similar responsible partners globally. You could say that in reality it is a choice who our companies want to play with.
In Denmark we have very little legislation concerning corruption. Danish criminal law only states that it is illegal to give and accept bribes of any kind or any size, both inside and outside of Denmark.
Further regulation on how to avoid corruption is left to companies themselves to deal with. However, not without guidance. Both the Danish government and The Danish Federation of Industries, the Danish companies’ own branch organisation, have signalled quite clearly that corruption under all circumstances is unacceptable – The Danish Federation of Industries has, indeed, made it clear that they have a “Zero Tolerance”-policy.
Many companies also make use of so- called “whistle-blower” systems that have become very popular in Denmark. This means that a person with knowledge about some kind of corruption or malpractice that they believe should receive publicity, can report it, and very often anonymously…