25 years working together on rule of law

25 years working together on rule of law

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This year the Netherlands celebrates 25 years of cooperation on good governance and integrity with countries in the Balkan and Eastern Europe. Capacity building is the keyword. In 2018 dozens of civil servants come to the Netherlands to discuss the development of integrity and good governance with colleagues and exchange experiences. Without capacity building the rule of law means nothing, The minister of Justice & Security, Mr Ferd Grapperhaus, said at the international conference ‘Making the Difference’ in The Hague. “We need the rule of law to create a safe and stable society in which citizens can develop themselves and have a good life”. His colleague from Albania, Mr Ditmir Bushati, confirmed his words. “We want to build up the rule of law, because we want freedom for everyone and trade and development. Cooperation and learning together is the best way to achieve success. In Albania we work hard to get a rule of law that is independent of political and economical influences. Police, prosecutors, judges and lawyers will be able to do their work independently and professionally.” Both ministers compare building up the rule of law as climbing a mountain. It takes time, requires persistence to overcome resistance, but the summit is worth the effort.

The influence of integrity increases

The growing number of expert officials is an answer to the screaming and dominant leaders who think that the rule of law is nonsense. These leaders dishonour critical citizens and journalists, have a distaste towards decency and put people in jail without any judicial process. Nevertheless, they, and with them their supporting oligarchs, get isolated morally and sometimes literally because of suspicious bank accounts and houses that are too expensive, rumours about prostitution and as suspect involving mysterious murders of opponents. Their defenses sound hollow and unconvincing. Their position weakens slowly and they sometimes hit back hard. However, slowly but certainly the influence of anti-corruption agencies, independent judges and critical civil servants grows. More and more corrupted politicians and civil servants appear in court and are being judged. At the same time civil servants in the Balkan and Eastern Europe implement integrity plans. Dishonest colleagues get a penalty; risks relating to fraud and corruption have been discovered; codes of conduct are practical and mandatory. Training programmes make civil servants familiar with the importance of moral values, the handling of difficult dilemmas and the necessity of trusting civilians. Integrity, we may say, is recognized as a professional competence that will be a barrier against corruption and the abuse of power.

Of course there is disappointment and discouragement because of the unwillingness at the top to provide any reforms. In that case the power of the EU is useful. The European Union is emerging more and more as a watchdog for politicians, like in Romania where citizens asked for EU assistance, who want to descend the mountain. This movement overhead is essential in he struggle for good governance and integrity. The rule of law is not possible without capacity and expertise but it needs also the power of the EU and government leaders who advocate good governance. This bottom up and top down cooperation may grow as an advanced instrument, giving hope to citizens to get progress, happiness and justice. Summarized: after 25 years there are successes. So let’s celebrate and continue!

Henk Bruning

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