BERLIN (AP) -- The countries worst hit by the European financial crisis are also perceived as being among the most corrupt in the European Union, and those perceptions appear to be getting increasingly negative, an international watchdog said in a new report released Wednesday.
Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index shows Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece with the lowest scores in western Europe.
The index measures the perception of corruption in the public sector and not the financial sector, but Transparency's Europe director Anne Koch told The Associated Press said the results clearly indicate that people in the countries worst hit by the crisis perceive corruption to be widespread.
"It seems to me to be quite blatantly obvious that the lack of transparency in public finances in these four countries has been reflected in the figures," she said.
On a scale newly introduced for this year's report, where 0 is "highly corrupt" and 100 is "very clean," two-thirds of the 176 countries ranked scored below 50, which Transparency said indicates a widespread need for more openness in public institutions and more accountability for officials.
"Governments need to integrate anti-corruption actions into all public decision-making," said Transparency International head Huguette Labelle. "Priorities include better rules on lobbying and political financing, making public spending and contracting more transparent and making public bodies more accountable to people."
In other significant findings, Egypt fell from 112th last year to 118th place this year with a score of 32 - indicating concerns about the new government are even stronger some two years after the end of Hosni Mubarak's rule.
"This week's events in Cairo amply demonstrate that the endemic political issues that drove people to the streets in Egypt are still valid," said Transparency's Middle East and North Africa Director Christophe Wilcke. "Egypt's score is another reminder to the country's leaders that despite the revolution, they have to fight to corruption if they are to win the people's trust and succeed in transitioning to democracy."
The survey, which was first conducted in 1995, draws on a variety of sources that capture perceptions of corruption, including World Bank and World Economic Forum assessments, the African Development Bank's governance ratings, and Transparency International's own Bribe Payers Survey.
Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia were ranked the worst overall on this year's list, all tied with a rating of just eight. Denmark, Finland and New Zealand were thought of as least corrupt with scores of 90.
Canada scored 84, Germany 79 and Japan and Britain tied at 74. The United States was rated 73, giving it 19th place, and France scored 71.
At the bottom of western European nations, Greece scored a 36, Italy 42, Portugal 63 and Spain 65. All four countries are mired in recession, and both Portugal and Greece have received EU bailouts. Other European Union countries also fared poorly, with Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia and the Czech Republic all scoring less than 50.
The Greek numbers, which put it in 94th place on the ranking - 14 places below last year - stand out in particular, Koch said.
"Greece, of course, at place 94, is the lowest state in the European Union," she said. "It's ranked lower than countries like Colombia, Benin and Zambia ... which gives you pause for thought."