Strengthening the rule of law in the Western Balkans: Why should the EU care?

One of the main conditions set by the EU for aspiring members in the Western Balkans is to strengthen the rule of law, but the success of these efforts has so far been relatively limited. Drawing on a new study, Tena Prelec (Doctoral Researcher, University of Sussex) explains some of the major challenges that exist in the region and outlines why promoting the rule of law should continue to be viewed as a key priority for the EU.

Many of the most pressing rule-of-law related issues are deeply embedded in the political, economic and social structure of the countries of the Western Balkans. Tackling them is no easy matter and requires multi-faceted solutions: the coveted trophy of fostering better governance cannot be achieved within a few months’ time, nor even in a five-year period (such as the length of an EC mandate). Instead, it needs a strategy that will skirt short-term victories in favour of long-term gains, while providing clear benchmarks, fair reward and punishment, and the use of uncompromising language in calling out abuses. The Balkans in Europe Policy Group study “Strengthening the Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Call for a Revolution Against Particularism” sets out a wholesome strategy addressing the matter from an institutional, political and sociological perspective.

But, why should EU member states be interested in this topic? From a practical standpoint, it is understandable that European Union leaders and officials are sometimes reluctant to prioritise painstaking work that would only bear fruit in the long run, preferring to focus on maintaining stability (or the appearance thereof) and on more achievable successes. On top of the clear benefits for the Western Balkan countries, however, there are a number of pragmatic reasons – next to a host of loftier ones – why the European Commission, and indeed all the member states of the European Union (including the ‘outgoing’ UK), should be interested in ensuring that a comprehensive revolution against state capture and corruption takes place in EU accession countries.

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Some thoughts about ethics in public administration

 By Thomas Scapin, Researcher at the Institute of Political Studies in Lyon, France

In this brief blog post, I would like to share some thoughts[1] about ethics or integrity[2] in public administration. My presentation will fall into two parts. On the one hand, I’m going to put into historical perspective the idea that the policy agenda in the OECD zone has been recently shifting from anti-corruption to integrity. On the other hand, I will present a theoretical concept of administrative ethics which emphasizes the specific challenges related to this issue and the way to understand it in different contexts.

First of all, it is worth noting that both the international and research agendas already started to shift from anti-corruption to integrity in the mid 1990s. For example, the Public Management Committee (PUMA) of the OCDE began activities at the time on how to manage public officials’ ethics in order to promote integrity rather than only fighting corruption. For that purpose, the international organization has designed an “ethics infrastructure” consisting of “tools and processes to regulate against undesirable behavior and to provide incentives to good conduct” (OECD 1996, 8). At the same time, several member countries started to review their ethics policy in the public service to emphasize a more positive and preventive approach. Good examples can be found in the UK with the Nolan Committee (see Committee on Standards in Public Life, 1995), and in Canada with the Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics (see Canadian Center for Management Development & Tait, 2000). There was simultaneously a renewed interest for this topic in the academic sphere as well. Scholars in public administration have especially debated about “the impact of NPM reforms on public servants’ ethics” (Maesschalck, 2004). More generally, there has been a rise in the study of public administration ethics and integrity in the United States and Europe since the late 1990s and early 2000s (see Menzel, 2005 and Lawton & Doig, 2006).

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Whitewashing the UK: The Financial Action Task Force’s evaluation of the UK puts its credibility at stake

By Sue Hawley, Policy Director of Corruption Watch UK and SCSC Practitioner Fellow

When FATF released its evaluation of the UK’s anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing regime in December 2018, giving it almost full marks, civil society organisations were dismayed. Global Witness accused the review body of being ‘asleep on the job’. RUSI questioned “the relevance” of the evaluation given the UK’s repeated role in global money laundering schemes.

FATF – the global anti-money laundering body – is one of the most feared and respected review bodies on the international stage. Unlike equivalent review bodies such as the OECD or UN, FATF has the power to blacklist non-cooperative jurisdictions – a sanction that could seriously impact a country’s credit ratings and ability to access international finance.

Lacking transparency and stakeholder input

Unfortunately, FATF also happens to be one of the least transparent and participatory of the international review bodies, with very little public or civil society input into its reviews. It meets primarily with governments and the private sector, including civil society groups only to discuss one specific recommendation (8) on measures to prevent non-profit organisations being susceptible to terrorist financing, and then only a narrow set of CSOs. UK civil society groups asked the UK government and FATF several times to meet with evaluators to discuss broader money laundering policy issues – unsuccessfully.

The result of only meeting a narrow range of stakeholders is that FATF evaluators only hear the narrative of the government under review. Voices with good evidence that might question that narrative, such as civil society and academia, are effectively excluded. FATF’s UK evaluation is a perfect example of this.

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