Sometime ago, around the signing of the agreement between Russia and Germany to build a pipeline, there was a rumour that this was part of a personal deal to benefit Gerhard Schroder. The fact that Mr. Schroder, within days of leaving office, has in fact joined the gas pipeline company as the leader of the shareholder committee rather suggests that these rumours were true.
Bluntly, the move is so brazen as to suggest that the relationship between Schroder and Russian President Putin was as improper as the rumours alleged. Of course corruption is nothing new - not even for Germany, after many allegations concerning former Chancellor Kohl's relationship with the French Government- it is, however, highly corrosive.
By the time of Cicero, the values of the Roman Republic were undermined by increasingly cynical politics and corruption. The eventual result was the collapse of the Roman political ideal of cives Romanum sum into decadent brutality. From the self indulgence of Mark Anthony and on to the the vile debauch of Tiberius, Caligula and Nero- power was taken from the SPQR- the Senate and People of Rome- and given to corrupt despots. The price of freedom truly is eternal vigilance and we are letting our guard down.
At a time when major figures in the US administration are demonstrating a contempt for due process and the rule of law and becoming accomplices to torture, false imprisonment, extra judicial murder and illegal war, we might have hoped that Europe could speak for Liberal values. However, Europe is now itself mired in corruption. The evil criminality of the Putin regime in Chechnya and its aggressive foreign policy have already rendered the Russian Federation as a rogue state, but the net has grown wider and ever wider.
At present the President of the French Republic is accused of corrupt expenditure while Mayor of Paris. The immediate ex Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany appears to have received payments from the President of the Russian Federation, whose contempt for the rule of law is well known but whose personal venality, and that of his wife, is perhaps not so well known. As for the Prime Minister of the Italian Republic, his conflicts of interest render him unfit for any public office. These leaders can not lecture anyone, because their own conduct is so shameless.
But what then of Mr. Tony Blair?
Sadly there too are certain rumours concerning the Prime Minister of Great Britain and his own corrupt lobbying. Some are old- the lobbying for Lakshmi Mittal, the Ecclestone saga. However worse is yet to come. Cicero hears that some very old friends of Mr. Blair, who long ante-date even his leadership of the Labour party, but who have quite "interesting" pasts, asked Mr. Blair for certain favours in Poland about two years ago, and he complied. Senior figures in Poland have suggested that Mr. Blair is not "a pretty straight kind of guy" at all.
The case for control, oversight and reform is overwhelming- in every country. Until we can control our own corruption, we can hardly lecture the rest of the world. I feel that unless the storm breaks, that Western Democracy will go the way of the Roman Republic- mired in cynicism ("they are all the same") and increasingly corrupt and decadent.
Transparancy and the highest standards in government life are not negotiable- unless we insist on the integrity of our leaders we are headed down a very dark road indeed.