Whether they’re uncovering drug cartels, teaching how to protect secrets, improving the image of the police department or fighting corruption, skepticism is their speciality

Honorary President Transparency International Austria

Corruption is something no country is proud of.  So many cringed when a succession of banking scandals, fallen federal ministers and shady lobbyists sent Austria careening down from 10th to 23rd on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2014.

The fact that Austria rose again to the 16th in 2015 doesn’t impress Dr. Franz Fiedler. “Austria is not yet where it should be, which is back in the top ten.”

Fiedler, 72, has lived through his fair share of these setbacks. His long and distinguished career has taken him through federal courtrooms, the Austrian Parliament, the Court of Auditors and the Austrian Convention for constitutional reform. And now as the Honorary president (unpaid) of Transparency International Austria, an anti-corruption organization, he may have the role where he can make the
biggest impact.

Corruption is by nature an elusive target. Those suspected of it usually come from the upper echelons of society; they are generally intelligent, come with expensive lawyers and have access to an international network. But whoever they are, strict prosecution must always be the goal. “One must not be resigned from the outset,” said Fiedler. “That would be particularly detrimental.”

In Austria, a lot has been accomplished through public pressure. Still, our perception of corruption was not always so accurate. Even as recently as 10 to 15 years ago, people would comment that corruption is “a victimless offense,” Fiedler remembered. “They would think, when a bribe is passed on, no one gets hurt, so what’s the harm?

“But let’s be totally clear: Someone is hurt – the taxpayer.”

In Austria, corruption is in part a function of size and proximity; both its political and economic hubs are in Vienna, unlike, say, Germany where one is in Frankfurt and the other Berlin. And then there’s the Freunderlwirtschaft, the tight-knit, incestuous social networks, which can lead to the unhealthy intermingling of political and economic spheres.

It was late afternoon when we finished the interview.  But Fiedler was going back to the office.  “Of course!” Fiedler smiled.  “The work of fighting corruption is never done.”

At that point, we believed him.

We have witnessed a whole series of corrupt politicians. They not only undermine the constitutional state, but democracy overall.