27.09.2007 - 17:17 CET Bulgaria and Romania, the EU's two newest member states, are the most corrupt in the Union, according to this year's Transparency International report.
The index ranks 180 countries on the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians, based on surveys of business people and assessments by country analysts.
Following their accession to the EU earlier in January, Bulgaria and Romania replaced Poland and Greece as the union's worst-forerunners on the corruption front.
In general, newer member states score worse than older member states on corruption, although the gap is gradually narrowing.
Of the original EU15, only Portugal, Italy and Greece are perceived to be more corrupt than several newer member states. Denmark and Finland, traditional high-flyers, top the list as the least corrupt states.
Of the 12 mainly central and eastern European member states that joined in 2004, Slovenia and Estonia emerged as states with the least perceived corruption.
Austria and Malta more corrupt since last year
While the authors of the index warn that comparisons between years should be made with caution, they identified Austria and Malta as the EU members that have suffered from a significant increase in corruption levels since last year.
For Malta, it is the third year in a row with an increased perception of corruption. The recent deterioration comes as the tiny island has suffered one corruption allegation and scandal after another in the past year.
The authors of the report also mention that the Czech Republic, Italy and Romania were the EU members that made most progress on corruption since 2006.
Croatia and Macedonia, two EU candidates, also made significant improvements. Turkey, the third candidate member shares the same ranking as Croatia.
While EU candidate states still trail almost all EU members, they are far ahead of ex Soviet-states, where corruption is perceived to run rampant.
Russia, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Belarus are in the same league as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
Miklos Marschall, regional director for Europe and Central Asia at Transparency International, provided an explanation in an interview with Radio Free Europe.
"Wherever there is a stronger influence of the European Union, you see improvement. Wherever Russian influence is growing, the corruption situation is worsening," he said.