When It Comes to European Corruption, FIFA Is the Tip of the Iceberg

(Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty)

‘But even if the FBI and the Swiss prosecutors trailing in their wake bring Blatter down, there will still be a massive job — there will be the seven-eighths of the iceberg still to be chipped away.” So said British journalist Patrick Barclay in describing last week’s indictments against senior officials of FIFA, the global governing body for soccer.

Social debate in Europe is fixated on this scandal: It cuts personally for Europeans. Unlike in America, where fans follow many sports, in Europe, soccer rules supreme. During last year’s World Cup, for example, many business owners largely suspended operations when their national team was playing. They knew their employees would simply stop working anyway. Soccer is in Europe’s blood.

Unfortunately, FIFA’s issues are only the tip of an iceberg of establishment corruption in Europe. Like FIFA, EU states are governed by a complex web of regulations and laws designed to restrict corruption. In practice, however, these rules are often ignored without judicial consequence. A good example is the EU’s pre-2003 business dealings with Saddam Hussein: Judicial authorities accepted widespread non-compliance with UN sanctions.

EU political establishments have long believed their interests are served by tolerating corruption.

Why is this corruption tolerated? It’s partly because EU governments have failed to establish powerful independent institutions, such as the FBI, to effectively counter corruption. But the ultimate rot goes deeper than that. EU political establishments have long believed their interests are served by tolerating corruption.

Take France. As I’ve noted before, France’s deep social challenges are epitomized by its run-down banlieues. That said, whether it is kickbacks, bribes, or theft from the treasury, political corruption in France is overt and rampant. Put simply, the French establishment is not bound by the law.

How about the U.K.? More specifically, London. Whether laundering the vast proceeds of international organized-crime syndicates, or providing a no-questions-asked base for Russian finance, London has long been a favored home for international corruptocrats. Moreover, as the Guardian’s Nick Cohen has explained, Russian money has bought the political acquiescence of the British political establishment. It’s why Britain’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to China’s repression of Hong Kong have been so muted. As long as scandals stay off the front pages, British leaders have avoided shaking up the system. Even then — as we see in the British government’s reaction to the dealing of the defense contractor BAE with Saudi Arabia — hard cash comes second to English law: In 2006, the British government canceled a serious fraud investigation into BAE kickback payments so as to avoid losing a lucrative Saudi arms contract.

Though FIFA operates in the physical and psychological heart of the EU establishment, it took the FBI to bring it to heel.

In Europe’s largest economy, Germany, the influence of corruption is less obvious — but it’s still there. Recall that German banks simply bypassed EU and U.S. sanctions against Iran. This truth requires deep contemplation. After all, as the Iran nuclear negotiations approach their June 30 deadline, President Obama is promising that sanctions will “snap back” if Iran breaches any agreement. Yet, considering their prior record, and the salivating lust with which German firms continue to gaze at Iran, it seems highly unlikely that any “snap back” will actually take place. Once German firms get another taste of Iranian honey, American demands will become far less persuasive.

Of course, the ultimate proof of the EU’s massive corruption is the manner in which FIFA’s malfeasance was actually challenged. Though FIFA operates in the physical and psychological heart of the EU establishment, it took the FBI to bring it to heel. Long ignoring FIFA’s stench (watch this fantastic rant by an English soccer coach in 2010), EU leaders accepted what FIFA epitomized: the pretense of law and the luxury of easy money. The truth is clear: Like physical icebergs, this FIFA outcropping of corruption only hints at the deeper danger below the surface.

Tom Rogan is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and holds the Tony Blankley Chair at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets @TomRtweets.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at

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