Interview with Gerhard Schumann-Hitzler
Interview with Mr. Gerhard Schumann-Hitzler
Director, DG Enlargement, Directorate D – IPA Strategy & Regional Cooperation
- Mr. Schumann-Hitzler: How important are the reforms in the area of Public Administration by the western Balkans? What is the significance of such reforms from the EU point of view?
An efficient Public Administration which meets high professional and ethical standards and is firmly based on the Rule of Law is one of the two main pillars for any efficient and stable modern State. The other pillar is stable and reliable democratic Institutions.
Strengthening Public Administration – and in a broader sense, Good Governance – is at the heart of the Enlargement agenda. It will improve stability and provide an environment which attracts foreign direct investments and fosters growth through job creation. The global financial crisis has highlighted the interdependence of national economies both within and beyond the EU. Reforms in the area of Public Administration will generate confidence amongst citizens that their government is transparent, reliable and accountable to the tax payer. This more positive perception will positively affect political and economic stability.
- How do you see the regional cooperation, exchange and learning processes in the region and what do you think is the role that ReSPA is helping these countries to get closer to the EU?
Regional cooperation is an essential part of the enlargement policy and is recognized as such in the recently presented Enlargement Package. The challenges of the current economic and financial crisis can be tackled more efficiently by working together. The recently adopted South East Europe agenda 2020 requires close regional cooperation – and even cooperation beyond the region.
ReSPA is a "flagship" institution promoting such cooperation by allowing the exchange of views and best practices in key areas of Public Administration Reform. But ReSPA is also a model for regional cooperation as such which brings together participants and demonstrates the feasibility – and the benefits – of a regional mechanism of decision making, based on an analysis of their common problems and complementarities.
The European Union is based on the principle of cooperation between sovereign States and joint decision making, often involving difficult decisions and sacrifices to be made to reach a compromise. Participating in ReSPA can be seen as a "training ground" which brings the partner countries closer to EU integration.
- What do you think are some areas that the Western Balkans should focus more in their journey towards EU integration? How can regional initiatives and institutions such as ReSPA contribute towards the achievement of this goal?
Fight against corruption and organized crime are amongst the most challenging areas. Corruption remains prevalent and undermines the Rule of Law, has a negative impact on the business environment and as well as the national budget and affects the citizens' everyday life. Countries must ensure that independent, efficient and accountable judicial systems are in place. There is a need to have stronger procedures, including for the appointment of judges, in place and to ensure the right balance between guaranteeing independence of the judiciary on the one hand and accountability on the other.
Adequate administrative procedures, efficient tax collection, reliable independent statistical systems are also of big importance for implementing the reforms needed for EU integration.
A regional institution such as ReSPA can contribute to addressing these issues by providing a network for peer discussions and peer reviews, for sharing experiences in terms of how to improve public administration at all levels, for developing realistic and meaningful longer term strategies and by providing appropriate training to civil servants and public servants of the Western Balkan States.
- Do you think that enough progress has been made by the governments of the Western Balkans regarding the Public Administration Reform? What are some areas of this reform that the ReSPA member states should focus on? What are some of the achievements and some of the problems and obstacles in this regard?
The countries of the Western Balkans are at different stages in the EU accession process and as regards public governance they differ in a number of ways. Nevertheless, there are a number of common characteristics hindering progress in Public Administration Reform. The understanding of the Rule of Law as a fundamental principle still has to enter into people’s mind and behavior. The institutions providing the necessary “checks and balances” in a democratic system, especially Parliament and Judiciary, are still weak. While the “package” of administrative laws is largely in place, the real problem is lack of implementation capacities and respect for the rule of law. National budgets are not understood as policy instruments and sound and efficient management of public finances is not seen as an important part of public administration. More attention should be paid to de-centralisation and increased institutional and financial autonomy of local governments.
ReSPA can play an important role in stirring up the reform process through a program of training aiming at senior managers considered as “change agents” whereby impact on budget and human resource policies could be assured..
- What is the policy of the European Union on the enlargement especially for the Western Balkans?
The key word describing the enlargement policy is "sticking to the commitments". This applies to both the European Union which continues its assistance to help the countries of the Western Balkans on their way to European integration and to the countries of the region themselves. These countries need to live up to their commitments as well, keep up the reform momentum and improve, where necessary, relations with their neighbours.
- In the end, what would be your advice to ReSPA and the member states?
ReSPA in itself is an important step on the way to EU integration. The Member States should use the full potential of this institution and the role it can play in designing and implementing a common approach to Public Administration Reform in the region. ReSPA should aim to strengthen its regional legitimacy as PAR platform and to consolidate its recognition as provider of quality training for senior managers.
Thank you very much for your interview!