1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Fight against Corruption, State-Building, and Legitimacy
  4. The EU's Efforts at Fighting Corruption in the Southern Caucasus
  5. The Effectiveness of EU Efforts
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

This article asks under which conditions the state-building efforts of external actors in areas of limited statehood are likely to be effective. We argue that the legitimacy of the specific norms promoted by external actors among local actors is crucial for their success in strengthening state capacities. International efforts need to resonate with prevalent social norms. To substantiate this argument, we focus on the European Union's (EU) anticorruption programs and their implementation in one of the most corrupt regions in the world, the Southern Caucasus. We show that legitimacy can explain why the EU's fight against corruption helped reduce corruption in Georgia but not in Armenia. In both countries, political elites could selectively use anticorruption programs as an instrument against political opponents, using enhanced state capacities to stabilize the incumbent regime. Only in Georgia, however, was the fight against corruption facilitated by sustained domestic mobilization for anticorruption policies that added pressure on political elites “from below.”

During the past 20 years, states and international organizations have engaged in state-building in areas of limited statehood. Much of the scholarly literature has remained skeptical with regard to the extent to which external actors can induce domestic change, particularly when it comes to such complex tasks as (re)building the institutions of political and social order. Rather than dismissing their influence altogether, this article asks under which conditions the efforts of these external actors are likely to be effective. Controlling for task complexity and institutional design, we argue that the legitimacy of the specific norms promoted by external actors among local actors is crucial for their success in strengthening state capacities. Politically relevant audiences in the target state do not only have to accept external efforts of state-building. These efforts have to resonate with the prevalent social norms to be effective.

To substantiate this argument, we focus on the European Union's (EU) anticorruption programs and their implementation in one of the most corrupt regions in the world, the Southern Caucasus. Given its paramount negative impact on the political, economic, and societal institutions of a state, corruption lies at the heart of the state-building agenda that the EU pursues in its Eastern neighborhood to turn it into a ring of well-governed countries. To master this complex task, the EU has developed a highly institutionalized and legalized framework, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), within which the EU and the Southern Caucasus countries negotiate the reform priorities and measures to be implemented.

Regarding the effectiveness of the EU's efforts at state-building, contracted, highly legalized reform programs and sufficient funding for the implementation have been successful in bringing about legal and institutional changes in all three Southern Caucasus countries that are in line with the EU's demands. However, our comparative study shows that only in Georgia have these changes resulted in lower levels of corruption. Armenia and Azerbaijan, by contrast, saw no progress in the control of corruption. We explain the differential success of the EU's anticorruption programs by one factor identified in this special issue, namely, legitimacy (Krasner and Risse 2014). For the institutional constraints on corruption promoted by the EU to be effective, they need to resonate with a social belief in the target state in public integrity, government impartiality, and universal access to public resources. Only where such anticorruption norms prevail over particularism and a culture of privilege, can political leadership generate domestic mobilization that is sustainable enough to induce political elites to implement legal and institutional changes that render external state-building efforts effective.

In the following section, we elaborate the argument further before turning to the empirical investigation into the role of legitimacy in explaining the differential impact of the EU's fight against corruption in two countries of the Southern Caucasus, Armenia and Georgia, between 2000 and 2010.1 We first describe the EU's efforts at capacity- and institution-building in the fight against corruption, which are comparable vis-à-vis the two countries. We then look into the effectiveness of the EU's efforts: The comparison shows similar formal institutional changes in both countries induced by the EU. Yet, the implementation of institutional constraints on corruption is more or less effective in reducing levels of corruption. Whereas there are some improvements in Georgia, the situation has not changed for the better in Armenia. In order to account for this variation in the effectiveness of external state-building efforts, we finally compare the role of various sources of legitimacy for the EU's differential impact. In both countries, political elites could selectively use the fight against corruption as an instrument against political opponents, using enhanced state capacities to stabilize the incumbent regime. Only in Georgia, however, was the fight against corruption facilitated by a second development that was absent in Armenia: Sustained domestic mobilization for anticorruption policies put pressure on political elites “from below,” providing important incentives to implement anticorruption measures. Unlike in Georgia, societal outrage against corruption has been largely absent in Armenia where norms of particularism still prevail. The article concludes with some reflections on the limits to external state-building efforts. Legitimacy as a necessary condition for their effectiveness depends to a large extent on domestic politics beyond the reach of external actors.

The Fight against Corruption, State-Building, and Legitimacy

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Fight against Corruption, State-Building, and Legitimacy
  4. The EU's Efforts at Fighting Corruption in the Southern Caucasus
  5. The Effectiveness of EU Efforts
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

Corruption fundamentally undermines the capacity of states to effectively provide collective goods and services. It is detrimental to a competitive market economy, impairs socioeconomic development, deters foreign investment, and impedes innovation (Rose-Ackerman 1996; Shleifer and Vishny 1993). Moreover, corruption erodes the political and public institutions in a democratic state by favoring certain parts of the population and excluding others from political processes (Johnston 2005; Karklins 2005). Finally, the existence of pervasive corruption has a corrosive effect on the territorial integrity of the state and the political community itself, bearing the danger of social unrest (civil war) and state collapse (Shen and Wiliamson 2005). Given its paramount negative impact on the political, economic, and societal institutions of a state, corruption is often considered to lie at the heart of the failed delivery of collective goods and services (Mungiu-Pippidi 2013b, 11–20; Spinellis 1996).

In these settings, efforts of external actors at state-building aim at strengthening the institutional capacities of states, of which the fight against corruption is a key dimension. Fighting corruption improves the capacity of state institutions to provide collective goods and services, resisting the capture by particular interests or groups. It has become a prominent strategy of state-building efforts for external actors to focus on factors that they can influence, such as the adoption of a comprehensive body of anticorruption laws and an autonomous judiciary that is capable of enforcing these laws (Wolf and Schmidt-Pfister 2010). However, the formal institutional changes external actors seek to induce do not automatically translate into lower levels of corruption and, hence, higher degrees of statehood (Batory 2012; Mungiu-Pippidi 2006). Adopting anticorruption institutions, as they are promoted by the EU and other Western donors, is likely to remain decoupled from behavioral practices of corruption if it does not resonate with social norms stipulating that “the allocation of public resources should be universal, fair and lawful and not determined by favouritism due to a particular authority or office holder's ties to any company, individual or group” (Mungiu-Pippidi 2013b, 21). As in societies where particularism and a culture of privilege prevail, corrupt practices may still exist, yet they do not conform to the “rules of the game” but deviate from the norm of ethic universalism. Massive and sustained violations of anticorruption norms, if publicly disclosed, are likely to trigger moral outrage that can be politically mobilized by strategic political elites or civil society actors and provide important incentives for implementing anticorruption measures.

We agree with the existing literature that domestic politics matters for external state-building. Next to offering incentives to local elites and their domestic support coalitions, external actors need to empower domestic change agents to promote domestic institutional change (Mungiu-Pippidi 2013a; Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink 2013; Vachudova 2005). We argue, however, that external demands need to resonate with social norms in the target state so that strategic political elites have an incentive to implement institutional changes and civil society actors have the leverage to pull incumbent elites into (enforcing) compliance with the formal rules.

Focusing on the fight against corruption, we consider two dimensions of the effectiveness of external efforts, the dependent variable of this special issue (Krasner and Risse 2014). If efforts of external actors at state-building by enhancing state capacities to fight corruption are successful, we should see, first, the introduction of formal institutional changes in accordance with the demands of external actors. Second, these changes have to result in the actual reduction of corruption levels. It is not enough to introduce anticorruption rules and, for example, create an independent prosecutor; corruption has to be prosecuted and penalized, for which the prevalence of anticorruption norms in the society is crucial.

In order to analyze the role of legitimacy as a necessary condition for the effectiveness of external efforts at state-building, we investigate the EU's efforts at fighting corruption in the Southern Caucasus between 2000 and 2010. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia suffer from limited statehood and are among the most corrupt countries in the world. Striving for a secure and well-governed neighborhood, the EU started to address the fight against corruption in bilateral relations around 2000 and made it one of its priorities under the regional framework of the ENP launched in 2004. The EU effectively induced all three Southern Caucasus countries to introduce formal institutional changes in line with its demands (see below). However, only in Georgia have these changes resulted in lower levels of corruption. By contrast, Armenia and Azerbaijan saw no progress in fighting corruption (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Corruption in the Southern Caucasus, 2000–2010

Sources: World Bank <>. (August 8, 2013). The World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicator (WGI) for Control of Corruption ranges from −2.5 (high corruption) to 2.5 (low corruption). It captures “perceptions of the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as ‘capture’ of the state by elites and private interests” (Kaufmann, Kraay, and Mastruzzi 2010, 4), aggregating individual indicators of corruption from up to 21 different sources. It strongly correlates with other measurements of corruption, such as the International Country Risk Guide (ICRG) Corruption indicator, the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, the Global Corruption Barometer, or the indicators used in the Global Competitiveness Report (cf. Mungiu-Pippidi 2013b, 6–10).

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The fight against corruption is a complex task. The EU's effort at state-building in this regard is less about the direct transfer of material resources (capacity-building in a narrow sense) but rather about the transfer of norms, rules, and procedures modifying basic state institutions to accommodate fundamental principles of good governance and the fight against corruption. Trying to bring about institutional reforms and behavioral change in all three branches of government, reaching from top-level decision makers to low-level bureaucrats, the number of interventions necessary and the number of the actors to be coordinated are extremely high. Facing a complex task, the institutional design of external efforts at state-building in the area of corruption requires a high degree of institutionalization, a condition that the EU's fight against corruption in the Southern Caucasus clearly fulfills. The ENP provides a standardized and formally institutionalized framework for cooperation with the EU's neighbors, including all three countries in the Southern Caucasus. It brings together a set of instruments that are highly legalized either by EU regulations or in bilateral agreements with the individual neighbor countries. The EU provides sufficient resources for the implementation of its instruments. The setting of targets and the implementation of measures are embedded in a continuous process of bilateral negotiations, making the EU's fight against corruption in the Southern Caucasus an instance of nonhierarchical contracting.

Holding task complexity and the institutional design of the EU's efforts constant, we can focus on the role of legitimacy. Since EU-induced reforms are contracted, the EU may enjoy a certain degree of legitimacy among domestic actors, particularly with the incumbent regimes. Its input legitimacy may have fostered the formal institutional change in all three countries but cannot explain the differential impact on the levels of corruption. It is too early to tell to what extent the EU enjoys output legitimacy, as the lengthy processes of capacity- and institution-building have yet to have an effect on domestic perceptions of the EU's problem-solving capacity. The international legitimacy of the EU being constant, we focus on domestic legitimacy, that is, the domestic resonance or conformity of the norms and rules the EU promotes with the survival strategies of incumbent elites and the prevalent social norms regarding universal as opposed to restricted access to public resources. Drawing on the concept of “breaching experiments” (cf. Garfinkel 1985; Goffman 1963), we argue that moral outrage of larger parts of a society against corrupt practices reflects the prevalence of anticorruption norms over particularism and a culture of favoritism. Data on the willingness of citizens to protest against corruption as well as the number of protest events can serve as indicators for social norms on corruption that resonate more or less with external anticorruption policies.

In all three countries, the fight against corruption fits the strategic interest of incumbent elites and aligns with their survival strategies. The fight against corruption provides the opportunity and the means to disempower political opponents within or outside of the government and to please external donors, which explains again the formal institutional change in all three cases. However, the resonance with social norms varies significantly when comparing Armenia and Georgia. Whereas corrupt practices have triggered moral outrage in Georgia mobilized by political leadership resulting in public demands for effective political reforms, corruption is still widely accepted in Armenia where the norm of particularism and a general culture of favoritism seem to prevail. Once mobilized, the sustained political protest of the masses in Georgia has thus prompted the political elites to go beyond the strategic and highly selective use of anticorruption policies and to engage in more comprehensive measures, effectively reducing the levels of corruption in the country.

The empirical study focuses on two out of the three countries in the Southern Caucasus: Armenia and Georgia. Comparing these two countries allows us to systematically control for alternative explanations and isolate the effect of legitimacy on the effectiveness of external state-building efforts. They share a legacy of Soviet rule based on endemic corruption (Stefes 2008) and show similar degrees of statehood, democracy, and interdependence with the EU in 2000, before the EU launched its efforts at fighting corruption (Table 1). Levels of statehood for both Georgia and Armenia improved over time. Yet this may be a result of, but is certainly not the driving force for, the fight against corruption. As we will see, Georgia has strengthened its statehood, not least because the government under Mikheil Saakashvili has managed to reduce corruption within the state administration. Armenia equally improved its statehood, whereas the level of corruption, however, has remained stable. The (un)democratic quality of the two regimes does not correspond to the differential outcomes either—both Georgia and Armenia suffered an authoritarian backlash, admittedly much more dramatically in the latter case. Georgia and Armenia, finally, are equally dependent on EU aid and trade. Azerbaijan, by contrast, featured significantly lower levels of statehood than the other two countries, which indeed corresponds to consistently higher levels of corruption in line with expectations about the link between statehood and corruption. Yet, the democratic quality of the Azeri regime is also much lower and Azerbaijan is far less dependent on the EU due to its rich oil and gas resources, which makes it impossible to isolate the effect of legitimacy for explaining why institutional changes similar to those in Georgia and Armenia have not resulted in lower levels of corruption.

Table 1. Statehood, Democracy, and Interdependence
  1. Sources: World Bank, Quality of Government Dataset, and EU. To measure statehood in the Southern Caucasus, we use the World Bank's WGI for Government Effectiveness. It highly correlates with the statehood index data used in this special issue, a combined indicator of ICRG Bureaucratic Quality and relative Political Instability Task Force (see Krasner and Risse 2014; Lee, Walter-Drop, and Wiesel 2014). However, the WGI for Government Effectiveness paints a more nuanced picture for the countries we are interested in, including Georgia, and whose values correspond more closely to the findings of our own qualitative research (cf. Börzel and Pamuk 2011; Börzel and van Hüllen 2011; van Hüllen 2012). Values range from −2.5 to 2.5. To measure the democratic quality, we use an indicator that combines the Freedom House Freedom in the World index with the Polity IV Index (Hadenius and Teorell 2005). It covers procedural and structural elements of democracy and shows a higher validity and reliability than its constituent parts. The scale ranges from 1 to 10. To measure interdependence, we use EU aid dependence measured by the EU's (and its member states') share of net ODA in percentage and EU's (and its member states') ODA as a percentage of GDP, European Union, DG External Trade, <>. (February 15, 2013). Trade dependence provides an alternative indicator, which, however, is less useful in this case, since the overall trade of Georgia and Armenia with the EU is low.

Statehood−0.62 (2000)−0.59 (2000)−0.89 (2000)
0.29 (2010)−0.15 (2010)−0.84 (2010)
[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] increase[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] (slight) increase[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] no change
Democratic quality6.67 (2000)6.25 (2000)2.00 (2000)
5.24 (2009)3.57 (2009)2.74 (2009)
[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] (slight) decrease[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] decrease[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] (slight) increase
Interdependence (EU share of net ODA in %)79.28% (2000)70.15% (2000)65.30% (2000)
80.58% (2010)70.30% (2010)51.97% (2010)
[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] no change[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] no change[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] (slight) decrease
Interdependence (EU ODA as % of GDP)4.39% (2000)7.92% (2000)1.72% (2000)
4.33% (2010)2.55% (2010)0.16% (2010)
[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] no change[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] decrease[RIGHTWARDS ARROW] (slight) decrease

The EU's Efforts at Fighting Corruption in the Southern Caucasus

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Fight against Corruption, State-Building, and Legitimacy
  4. The EU's Efforts at Fighting Corruption in the Southern Caucasus
  5. The Effectiveness of EU Efforts
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

With its borders moving eastward, the EU has developed a regional framework for cooperation to foster peace, stability, and prosperity among its new neighbors in the former Soviet Union. The ENP provides a highly institutionalized, contractual framework for the EU's efforts at state-building that applies to both Armenia and Georgia.

EU country reports had highlighted corruption as one of the main challenges to good governance and statehood in 2005, so the fight against corruption gained a prominent place in the ENP Action Plans (AP) negotiated with the countries in the Southern Caucasus in 2006. The EU asked Armenia and Georgia to accede to, ratify, and implement international conventions that are related to the fight against corruption, including the United Nations (UN) Convention against Corruption (2003), the Council of Europe's Criminal and Civil Law Conventions on Corruption (1999), or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (1997). Both governments agreed to join international anticorruption networks, such as the “Group of States against Corruption—GRECO,” and to implement their recommendations in order to advance legislative or institutional reforms in this regard. Finally, each AP contained some additional requirements that largely concentrated on promoting anticorruption measures within the administration and/or the law enforcement agencies or improving the legal framework for the prosecution of corruption-related crimes. The required actions are quite similar for Armenia and Georgia, and only slightly vary with regard to the specificity of certain measures (cf. Börzel, Stahn, and Pamuk 2010).

The ENP was explicitly designed to provide an alternative to membership—depriving the EU of its allegedly most successful instrument for external state-building, namely, accession conditionality. However, the EU still has a range of provisions for positive and negative conditionality at its disposal. Basically, the EU offers deeper cooperation and economic integration in exchange for political and economic reforms as agreed in the ENP AP. It can reward progress by upgrading bilateral relations (e.g., association agreements), lifting trade restrictions (e.g., deep and comprehensive trade agreement), simplifying visa regimes or extending the scope of assistance. Based on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA) negotiated in the second half of the 1990s, it may also (threaten to) suspend bilateral agreements, withhold assistance under regional cooperation programs, and impose political sanctions (e.g., visa bans).

The PCA already established a regular political dialogue with Armenia and Georgia to win over the hearts and minds of governmental actors through persuasion and to socialize them into the norms and rules the EU seeks to promote. Political dialogue in the Cooperation Councils, Committees, and technical subcommittees shall reflect the “partnership-based approach” of joint commitment and ownership, by which the EU seeks to treat the countries subject to its state-building efforts as equal partners. With the ENP, political dialogue became tightly linked to the implementation of political conditionality and the AP, as partners use the meetings to agree on reform agendas that identify priority areas and actions for changes in governance institutions, negotiate their implementation, and monitor progress.

Besides negative and positive conditionality and political dialogue, the EU provides financial and technical assistance in order to enhance state capacities to fight corruption. TACIS, the regional cooperation program launched in 1991, covered a wide range of issues, such as support for privatization processes and the development of the private sector as well as the reform of the public administration, of education and social services, of the transport, energy, agricultural and telecommunication sector or nuclear safety and environmental policies. Around 2000, the EU started to link TACIS more closely to its (good) governance agenda, including the fight against corruption. The European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), which replaced TACIS in 2007, defined good governance as a central commitment on which the partnerships are based and included the fight against corruption as an explicit goal of assistance. It takes a “sector-wide” approach allocating the assistance by means of direct budgetary aid to the partner governments.

With few exceptions, the EU's implementation of these instruments for state-building through the fight against corruption was similar in 2000–2010 in Armenia and Georgia. Overall, the two countries have felt little pressure by the EU to change their governance institutions in accordance with ENP goals and requirements. The EU has almost exclusively relied on financial assistance to build institutions and capacities for the fight against corruption largely refraining from invoking conditionality.

The EU has never formally invoked negative conditionality legalized in the PCAs or TACIS and ENPI regulations. It has, however, in 2003 restricted the provision of assistance to Georgia and decided to fundamentally revise its Country Strategy Paper in response to deteriorating political conditions under the Shevardnadze regime (cf. Börzel, Stahn, and Pamuk 2010). It is difficult to assess the practical implications of these decisions. Only two months after the adoption of the revised programming document, the Rose Revolution brought about an unexpected change of leadership in Georgia and the EU's approach toward the country switched back to an almost unconditional support. More generally, it was at this point that the fight against corruption prominently entered the EU's state-building agenda. In 2004, it started active state-building efforts in this area and also in other neighboring countries. For both Armenia and Georgia, the National Indicative Programmes for 2004–2006 were the first to include the fight against corruption in projects that supported the implementation of the respective PCA (see below).

The fight against corruption has been an issue of political dialogue in both Georgia and Armenia. Yet the joint translation of reform priorities into specific measures has been hindered by imprecise goals, the lack of time frames, and the absence of responsible agencies (cf. Börzel, Stahn, and Pamuk 2010).

In 2000–2010, Armenia and Georgia received respectively around €140 million and €180 million under TACIS and ENPI. However, it was only in 2004 that the fight against corruption explicitly appeared in the EU's programming documents. With the new ENPI, the EU then significantly increased its funding for state-building efforts. In addition, it systematically integrated the fight against corruption into the programming documents for 2007–2010. Anticorruption policies became officially part of the first funding priority related to democratic governance, linked to public administration reform in Armenia (subpriority 1.2) and to the rule of law and good governance in Georgia (subpriorities 1.2 and 1.3). Taken together, the EU-financed programs in both countries touched upon all funding priorities relevant for the fight against corruption, namely, the reform of public administration, finance management, and civil service; the reform of the judiciary; civil society; and the approximation of legislation (see Börzel, Stahn, and Pamuk 2010).

Overall, the EU has relied on soft, partnership-based instruments to negotiate reform priorities and their implementation with Georgia and Armenia in order to tackle the complex task of fighting corruption. The framework for its efforts at state-building is highly institutionalized and it has implemented similar measures in the two countries between 2000 and 2010.

The Effectiveness of EU Efforts

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Fight against Corruption, State-Building, and Legitimacy
  4. The EU's Efforts at Fighting Corruption in the Southern Caucasus
  5. The Effectiveness of EU Efforts
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

Formal Institutional Change

The EU's efforts at state-building for the fight against corruption have induced institutional changes in the Southern Caucasus. Both Armenia and Georgia have ratified and given effect to the major international conventions on the fight against corruption. This includes the ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption (Armenia 2007, Georgia 2008) and the Council of Europe's Civil and Criminal Law Conventions (Armenia 2005 and 2006, Georgia 2004 and 2008) as well as the accession to GRECO (Armenia 2004, Georgia 1999). In order to abide by their international obligations and the EU's demands as specified in the ENP AP, the governments of Armenia and Georgia have introduced a number of changes to their governance institutions that are quite similar (Table 2). They have developed anticorruption strategies and anticorruption action plans, which were drafted by anticorruption councils, and special commissions supervising their implementation. Moreover, the public prosecutor's offices were charged with the investigation and prosecution of crimes related to corruption. Finally, Armenia and Georgia have introduced several legislative changes by issuing new legislation and amending existing laws. Overall, the EU has been successful in promoting the reform of formal anticorruption institutions and policies, enhancing state capacities for effectively fighting corruption in Armenia and Georgia between 2000 and 2010.

Table 2. Domestic Institutional Change in the Southern Caucasus
  1. Sources: Freedom House 2006: Nations in Transit-Country Report Armenia, <>. Greco 2006: Joint first and second Evaluation Round—Evaluation Report on Armenia, adopted on March 10, 2006, GRECO Eval I-II Rep (2005) 2E; Transparency International 2009: Global Corruption Report, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Freedom House 2005: Nations in Transit—Country Report Georgia, <>. Greco 2009: Second Evaluation Round—Compliance record of Georgia, adopted on May 15, 2009, Greco RC-II (2008) 9E, Strasbourg.

Anticorruption agencies  
Drafting policies

Anti-Corruption Council (2004)

Expert group (2008)

Anti-Corruption Policy Coordination Council (2001)

National Security Council (2005)

Inter-Agency Coordination Council of Combating Corruption (2008)

Implementing policiesAnti-Corruption Strategy Monitoring Commission (2004)

Department for Coordinating Anti-Corruption Policies (2001)

State Minister of Reform (2005)

Investigating and prosecutionAnti-Corruption Department in Prosecutor-General's Office (2004)

Inter-Agency Coordination Council for Combating Corruption (2008)

Prosecutor's Office (2005)

Anticorruption policies

Anti-Corruption Strategy (2003–2007, 2009–2012)

Implementation Action Plan (2003–2007, 2009–2012)

National Anti-corruption Strategy (2005; 2010)

Action Plan for the Anti-Corruption Strategy (2005–2006)

Anticorruption legal changes (examples)

Law on the Office of the Public Prosecutor (2007)

Law on Operational Investigative Activities (2007)

Law on the Organization and Implementation of Inspections (2007)

Law on the Declaration of Property and Income of Physical Person (2007)

Amendment of the Criminal Code (2006)

Law on Chamber of Control (2008)

Amendments to Law on Conflicts of Interest and Corruption in Public Services (2009)

Effective Implementation—Levels of Corruption

Given the high levels of corruption in both countries and the little pressure the EU exerted, these changes in governance institutions are not trivial. However, the EU's state-building efforts differed in their impact on the levels of corruption in Armenia and Georgia.

In the early 2000s, before the EU started its external state-building efforts to fight corruption, Georgia and Armenia showed similar levels of corruption (Figure 1). In both Armenia and Georgia, tightly organized patronage networks permeated the public sphere and helped sustain a stable equilibrium of informal institutions. The extensive misuse of social networks for particularistic purposes favored certain political interests and excluded others from the distribution of public goods (Stefes 2008). Finally, uncontested control of the incumbent regime, the lack of economic alternatives, and a comparatively weak civil society added further to the institutionalization of oligarchic monopolies (Shleifer and Vishny 1993). Corruption has not only yielded huge private rents but also allowed incumbent elites to control the access to power and resources securing the loyalty of key domestic actors. Ten years later, both countries still face enormous challenges in fighting corruption. However, in Georgia, formal institutional changes have resulted in significantly less corruption. Armenia, by contrast, has made no progress in lowering corruption levels.

The comparison of Armenia and Georgia demonstrates that the state-building efforts of external actors can induce changes in domestic anticorruption institutions and policies, which, however, do not necessarily result in a more effective fight against corruption. In the following, we demonstrate that it is the higher legitimacy or domestic resonance of anticorruption as the norm the EU seeks to promote, which explains why the EU's efforts at state-building has been more successful in Georgia than in Armenia.


The analysis of the EU's fight against corruption in the Southern Caucasus shows that two important sources of legitimacy do not vary between Armenia and Georgia, and hence cannot explain the differing effectiveness of the fight against corruption in the two countries.

First, in terms of input legitimacy or participatory quality, the EU not only negotiated the reform priorities and their implementation with both governments, making its efforts at state-building an instance of nonhierarchical contracting. It also urged both governments to cooperate with civil society and nongovernmental organizations on corruption-related reforms. The AP of Armenia and Georgia explicitly calls upon the EU's partner governments to involve nonstate actors in defining, implementing, and monitoring anticorruption measures. The same applies to financial and technical assistance. Unlike TACIS, ENPI allows for direct cooperation with business and civil society actors and requires the beneficiary partner governments to involve all relevant stakeholders in the implementation of programs. In practice, however, domestic societal and economic actors have hardly been involved in the implementation of the EU's fight against corruption in the Southern Caucasus.

Second, the EU refers to the same set of international anticorruption norms vis-à-vis Armenia and Georgia and can thus claim the same formal international legitimacy conveyed by the UN, the OECD, and the Council of Europe.

Despite the reliance on internationally accepted norms, incumbent elites have been reluctant to endorse the EU's anticorruption agenda. The adaptation costs for implementing the EU's demands regarding the fight against corruption were enormous in Armenia and Georgia, given their high levels of corruption in the early 2000s. As the remainder of this section will show, the EU's efforts nevertheless aligned with the survival strategies of incumbent elites in both countries, which equally facilitated formal institutional changes in line with international demands. What varied significantly between Armenia and Georgia has been the resonance of the EU's efforts at fighting corruption with local norms.

Anticorruption in Georgia: Legitimacy and Differential Empowerment of Political Elites

In the first decade after its transition, Georgia had done little to fight the pervasive corruption that crippled its state institutions and its economy (Darchiashvili and Nodia 2003; Kikabidze and Losaberidze 2000). President Eduard Shevardnadze depended on clientelistic networks and widespread corruption to consolidate and maintain his power, as he lacked the support of a strong and well-organized ruling party (Spirova 2008). Consequently, little changes occurred with regard to the fight against corruption under his presidency. However, Shevardnadze's system of widespread corruption soon became a major point of domestic and international criticism in the early 2000s. As a consequence, the EU restricted its assistance provision to Georgia in 2003 for the first time (see above). In addition, the then minister of justice Mikheil Saakashvili left the government in 2001 and founded the United National Movement, pledging to take issue with the Shevardnadze regime over corruption.

After Shevardnadze had tried to steal the vote in the 2003 elections, mass popular protests and international pressure forced him to resign from office. In the following presidential and parliamentary elections, Saakashvili and his party could secure large parts of the electoral support. He declared the fight against corruption to be the core of his government policies (Wheatley 2005) and was supported by the EU with financial and technical assistance (see above). The new government immediately took action against corruption within the law enforcement agencies, which resulted in the complete dismantling of the traffic police, which had been considered one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. Reforms of the police forces continued with investments in modern equipment, the creation of a new police academy, mandatory exams and training for police officers, and considerable increases in salaries. At the same time, draconian fines for minor offences were adopted. Petty corruption was upgraded to a serious crime, warranting several years of imprisonment (Boda and Kakachia 2005). A second major reform addressed the university admissions system that was ridden by corruption and subject to repeated public protest (Mungiu-Pippidi 2011, 67–69).

Saakashvili placed the fight against corruption under the direct control of his government. Since 2006 and 2008, respectively, the ministers of state reform and the ministers of justice, heading the Inter-Agency Coordination Council for Combating Corruption, have been charged with the drafting and implementation of anticorruption policies. The changes introduced to the governance institutions resulted in a significant decline of corruption (Figure 1).

Notwithstanding these improvements, corruption remains a problem. Georgia still belongs to the nearly three quarters of the 178 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2010 that score below 5, on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). While state authorities targeted petty corruption at lower levels of bureaucracy, Saakashvili has been accused of turning a blind eye to major corruption and abuse of power among his closest allies, whom he himself had allegedly placed in many prominent positions. Thus, corruption has not been eradicated but rather transmogrified into elite corruption (Chiabrishvili 2009). Next to rewarding his closest associates, Saakashvili also used the fight against corruption to oust political opponents (Di Puppo 2009). Yet, public outrage has continued, too. When the former Minister of Defense and close associate of Saakashvili, Irakli Okruashvili, left the government in 2006, formed an opposition party, and accused the president of corruption, he himself was arrested on corruption charges. The accusations met with public protest as a result of which Saakashvili lost much of his public support. When riots broke out in November 2007 calling for Saakashvili's resignation, he declared a state of emergency provoking severe criticism by international human rights organizations, which attacked the excessive use of violence by the government in order to quell the riots. Meanwhile, a court had found Okruashvili guilty of large-scale extortion and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. What was widely perceived as political persecution sparked further mass protests and contributed to the rise of antigovernment rallies (Freedom House 2008b). Saakashvili resigned in December 2007 only to be reelected in a snap election in January 2008. Having lost his credentials as a fighter against corruption, he shifted his political agenda toward nationalist issues. He appealed to widespread anti-Russian sentiments fueled by Russia's support for the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

While Saakashvili kept using corruption charges as a weapon against his political opponents, control of corruption stagnated after it had peaked in 2006 (Figure 1). Freedom House, Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, and other international organizations not only criticized Georgia for human rights violations but also denounced rampant corruption among high-ranking governing officials. Domestic protest against Saakashvili continued. The broadcasting of video footage showing prisoners being beaten and sexually abused by allegedly corrupt security forces resulted in massive street protest two weeks before the parliamentary elections in 2012 and contributed to the first peaceful transition of power in the history of Georgia. The new prime minister, Bidsina Ivanishvili, promised to purge Georgia of high-level corruption. Prosecutors indicted five of Saakashvili's ex-ministers and several officials of his party on charges including misuse of public funds and contract killings, the most prominent being Ivliane Merabishvili, former prime minister and interior minister, Saakashvili's close ally and potential successor as president. It remains to be seen whether Ivanishvili will deliver on his promise to improve universal access to public services or whether he will use the fight against corruption as “selective justice” and “for political revenge,” as claimed by the European People's Party, Saakashvili's main ally.2

Anticorruption in Armenia: Domestic Resistance and External Pressure

Unlike in Georgia, postindependence governments in Armenia have faced substantially less political mobilization against corruption. This is less related to the lower levels of corruption in the 1990s. Rather, Armenia's historical irredentism as well as the Karabakh conflict has created a strong sense of national identity that has bound together the country's various rivaling elite factions and makes them more reluctant to engage in internal power struggles. At the same time, political conflicts coagulate along nationalistic issues, such as Karabakh and Turkey (Hovannisian 2008), which supersede any grievances the population might suffer from corruption and renders the strategic use of anticorruption measures as means to win or consolidate political power difficult. Most importantly, even though the government is characterized by a “hyper”-executive with far-reaching competences dominating the state apparatus (Shahnazaryan 2003), it largely relies on the support of a wealthy business elite, the Armenian “oligarchs,” as a power base. While the oligarchs enjoy preferential access to the Armenian economy, they reportedly support the incumbent regime, mainly associated with the Republican Party of Armenia, “helping to rig elections and suppress the opposition” (Danielyan 2006, unpaginated). They have also increasingly assumed membership in parliament (Freedom House 2008a), where they sided with the incumbent government, rather than challenging it (Freedom House 2006). The close ties between political and economic elites are thus both the source of high degrees of corruption (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2010; Stefes 2008) and the power basis of the incumbent regime. They also reflect the prevalence of social norms of particularism and a culture of privilege that is more inclined to accept practices of corruption as “normal.” Hence, unlike in Georgia, there has not been sufficient moral outrage against corruption that would have allowed political actors or civil society organizations to use (EU) anticorruption policies in mobilizing the public against the incumbent regime. Public protest against corruption is consistently lower in Armenia as compared to Georgia (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Protest Events Related to Corruption in Georgia and Armenia, 2000–2010

Source: Own compilation based on the protest event database by Bidzina Lebanidze, Freie Universität Berlin. For further details see (Börzel and van Hüllen 2014)

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These differences in anticorruption protest are not related to the organizational capacity and viability of civil society organizations, which have not varied between Georgia and Armenia over the past 10 years (Figure 3).


Figure 3. Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index, Armenia and Georgia, 2000–2010

Source: Own compilation based on data from the CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, <>. (August 8, 2013). The USAID Index analyzes and assigns scores to seven interrelated dimensions: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image.

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Georgians show a higher propensity to mobilize against corruption than Armenians. In 2013, the share of Georgians who declared their willingness to get involved in the fight against corruption and participated in peaceful protests or demonstrations against corruption was twice as high as in Armenia.3 This is a strong indicator that social norms on “good” governance and corruption differ significantly between the two countries.

Rather than public mobilization driven by the prevalence of anticorruption norms, the limited fight against corruption beyond formal institutional changes in Armenia has largely been a response to the policy-specific conditionality of external donors. In the early 2000s, two developments gave rise to the practical implementation of anticorruption measures. First, international donors other than the EU started to step up their financial support for the fight against corruption. Next to the EU's financial and technical assistance, the World Bank provided a $345,000 grant to develop an action plan for the fight against corruption, while at the same time officials of both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank insisted on its publication by the end of 2003 (Freedom House 2004). Second, the Armenian diaspora voiced concerns and increasingly supported the implementation of domestic reforms of the public administration and judiciary, customs, tax, education, public health, and other sectors (Transparency International Armenia 2006). Consisting of very disparate groupings including various organizations and parties in the United States, France, and Lebanon, the diaspora provides considerable financial aid and other resources to the country (IOM 2008). Furthermore, genuine political parties that enjoy support from influential diaspora organizations have succeeded in building a stronghold in parliament, particularly the Armenian Revolutionary Federation—Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D) that reentered the political landscape under President Robert Kocharian in 1998. Corruption and takeovers of shares by the state have been a major impediment for diaspora investors (Manaseryan 2004). The ARF-D, as the main diaspora-related political organization, backed President Kocharian in his run for presidency in 2003,4 while putting the fight against corruption on its political agenda. It was also the diaspora loyal ARF-D that pressed for the establishment of an anticorruption council, introduced policy changes related to the fight against corruption into parliament, and accused Kocharian of protecting big businesses instead of fighting corruption (Danielyan 2004).5 Under increasing international pressure, the Armenian government moved beyond formal institutional changes and launched publicly visible attempts to crack down on corruption, including the sacking of corrupt officials in the tax department, customs service, and police. Given their lack of systemic effect, such changes in personnel have been criticized for being merely symbolic (Grigoryan 2008). A similar process marked the aftermath of the presidential elections of 2008, in which Kocharian handed power over to his preferred successor Serzh Sargsyan. Sargsyan was, similar to his predecessor, renowned for maintaining close ties with the oligarchic business community of Armenia (Freedom House 2004). However, as a reaction to the violent suppression of protests in the aftermath of the 2008 presidential elections, the U.S. government froze and suspended its assistance for Armenia in the framework of the Millenium Challenge Account program on grounds of a lack of democratic governance (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2010). Sargsyan subsequently declared the fight against corruption a priority for his Republican Party. His attempts to tackle corruption, however, have not yet resulted in measurable improvements. Initiatives only targeted lower governmental levels, leaving the source of corruption at the top levels of government and business untouched (Grigoryan 2009) and Armenia's corruption score unchanged.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Fight against Corruption, State-Building, and Legitimacy
  4. The EU's Efforts at Fighting Corruption in the Southern Caucasus
  5. The Effectiveness of EU Efforts
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

The comparison of the EU's promotion of anticorruption policies in Armenia and Georgia in 2000–2010 has highlighted the role of legitimacy for the effectiveness of external efforts at state-building. Tackling the complex task of changing institutions and enhancing capacities for the fight against corruption with a highly institutionalized framework for cooperation under the ENP, the EU's efforts were more successful in Georgia than in Armenia. Political elites in both countries chose to adopt legal and institutional changes in line with the EU's expectations because they resonated with their strategic interest. Especially in a (semi-) authoritarian context, anticorruption policies open the opportunity to selectively prosecute political opponents on corruption charges. However, only in Georgia have the formal changes been more systematically implemented, effectively reducing the country's level of corruption, whereas Armenia has not seen any progress. Unlike in Armenia, the external EU's efforts at state-building resonated with the prevalent anticorruption norms in Georgia, which allowed the political leadership of Saakashvili to mobilize public support on the fight against corruption. Moreover, once in power, continued mass mobilization increased the incentive for his regime to fight corruption. Subscribing to anticorruption policies became not only a means to disempower political opponents but also to win elections. As a result, Georgia saw some substantial improvements in state-building between 2003 and 2006. The eradication of entrenched corruption has strengthened the capacity of state institutions to provide collective goods and services and fostered economic growth.

These findings corroborate the claim of this special issue (Krasner and Risse 2014) that legitimacy of external state-building efforts defined as the resonance with prevalent social norms at the domestic level is a necessary condition for their effectiveness (see also Hönke and Thauer 2014). At the same time, they point to an important limitation of external actors in enhancing state capacities in areas of limited statehood. This contribution clearly shows that successful institution-building is not enough to ensure the effective provision of public goods and services. Without the political willingness of domestic actors, there is a decoupling between formal institutions and actual practices. This explains why legitimacy is key. Yet if legitimacy is a function of the resonance of the norms and rules external actors promote with the prevalent social norms in the target state, the effectiveness of external actors' efforts at state-building are confined to cases where domestic politics is “right.” Unlike the participatory quality of their institutional design, external actors have only limited means to change norms in a society. Moreover, norm-building programs need to be sustained for an extended time period that usually goes beyond the project-oriented approach of most external actors (Mungiu-Pippidi 2011, 25). The same is probably true for the perception of their problem-solving capacity or the trust in their knowledge and moral authority, particularly if they do not engage with those who suffer from corruption, but with the predatory elites who are in power (Mungiu-Pippidi 2006, 87). In the context of the EU's fight against corruption in the Southern Caucasus, this points to the risk of adverse effects of its efforts, which are part of a broader state-building agenda. The cases of Armenia, and to a lesser extent Georgia, demonstrate how incumbent elites can instrumentalize the efforts at state-building of the EU and other external actors to silence political opposition and use enhanced state capacities to stabilize their (semi-)authoritarian regimes. This goes against the proclaimed objective of external actors not only to build state capacity but also to promote democratic (and not just “good”) governance.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Fight against Corruption, State-Building, and Legitimacy
  4. The EU's Efforts at Fighting Corruption in the Southern Caucasus
  5. The Effectiveness of EU Efforts
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References

We would like to thank Aila Matanock, Stephen D. Krasner, Thomas Risse, and the three anonymous reviewers for their most valuable feedback on the various drafts of this article. We are also grateful to Esther Ademmer for her helpful comments on the Georgian and Armenian case studies as well as Sören Stapel and Bidzina Lebanidze for their general, and as always excellent, research assistance.

  1. 1

    The empirical data for this case study are drawn from a four-year research project on the EU's good governance promotion in European Neighbourhood Countries, which was part of the Collaborative Research Center “Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood” and funded by the German Research Foundation in 2006–2009 (cf. Börzel and Pamuk 2011; Börzel, Stahn, and Pamuk 2010).

  2. 2

    EU observer, July 29, 2013, <>. (August 8, 2013).

  3. 3
  4. 4

    “ARF to back Kocharian in 2003 Polls,” 2002. <>. (February 15, 2013).

  5. 5

    “ARF Presses Reforms Fight against Corruption,” 2003. <>. (February 15, 2013).


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. The Fight against Corruption, State-Building, and Legitimacy
  4. The EU's Efforts at Fighting Corruption in the Southern Caucasus
  5. The Effectiveness of EU Efforts
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. References
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