BERLIN - Nations hardest hit by the eurozone debt crisis are being held back by an inability to get to grips with corruption, anti-graft watchdog Transparency International (TI) said Wednesday.
Publishing its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, the Berlin-based body ranked Greece and Italy at places 94 and 72 respectively, out of 176 countries, and called for Europe to make tackling corruption a top priority in its battle against the crisis.
Perceived corruption in both countries appeared to have worsened.
In last year's index, debt-ravaged Greece was ranked 80th and Italy 69th.
"Underperformers in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 also include the eurozone countries most affected by the financial and economic crisis," TI noted.
It appealed to Europe's policymakers to "address corruption risks in the public sector to tackle the financial crisis" and for "strengthened efforts to corruption-proof institutions."
TI ranks countries on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean).
Top of the class this year were Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, each with a score of 90 due to a "strong access to information systems and rules governing the behaviour of those in public positions."
Lawless Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan remain rooted to the foot of the table, each scoring eight points despite efforts to tackle rampant corruption in Kabul.
In these three countries, "the lack of accountable leadership and effective public institutions underscore the need to take a much stronger stance against corruption," TI stressed.
Overall, the NGO urged greater efforts globally against corruption, noting that two-thirds of the countries listed scored below 50.
"After a year of focus on corruption, we expect governments to take a tougher stance against the abuse of power," TI chairwoman Huguette Labelle said.
The results of the survey show that "societies continue to pay the high cost of corruption," Labelle added.
Among other major nations, the United States came in 19th, just behind Japan and Britain, which were 17th equal.
China was well below the 50-point mark, coming in 80th with a score of 39. Germany was 13th with 79 points, ahead of fellow European powerhouse France, which was 22nd with 71 points.