Sleaze takes many forms and stalks in different guises. Those with favours to seek have found easy prey: government ministers; parliamentarians; and political parties. The current Kohlgate crisis in Germany – secret slush funds allegedly laced with money from France – is a devastating reminder that no one is immune and no country has the means to prevent it.
But in some respects Kohlgate is of a qualitatively different order: it goes to the very heart of the new Europe, and crosses frontiers in an unparalleled manner. It gives a new, unpleasant meaning to the Franco–German axis.
But it is not only sleaze: there is also its close cousin – the blatant buying of elections even in mature ‘democracies’ – that now effectively limits access and participation to a smaller and smaller number of well-financed citizens.