Challenges and reforms in the public administrations of EU candidates, Neighbourhood Countries and Member States

By Nicolas Dubois 

Nicolas DUBOIS, alumnus of the Christopher Columbus promotion (1985/1986), is an expert in public administration reform with extensive professional experience in the Western Balkans, North Africa, Africa and Middle-East as well as in the European Union. He is currently on loan from the OECD to the College of Europe Development Office as Senior Advisor. The College of Europe Development Office provides tailor-made training to organizations worldwide and has wide experience on technical assistance and academic cooperation projects. More


In the context of the regional conference on the results of EU assistance programmes –  organised on 8 December 2015 in Budva, Montenegro – the Head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro, Ambassador Mitja Drobnič, said that the Western Balkans need a credible reform agenda in order to become fully functioning market economies. Which are according to you the most important challenges on the reform agenda?

In the Western Balkans, we observe a change of paradigm where State administrations are gradually moving from a model where their core mission was to control citizens to a society where the public administration serves citizens. This systemic transition requires profound reviews of laws, institutions and procedures. It also requires changes of behaviour of civil servants, and therefore sustained investment in civil servants’ training and skills development at pre-entry, induction and in-service levels.

In the course of the last decade the EU has become more conscious of the importance for new Member Countries to be equipped with functioning systems of public governance. While the EU is agnostic of the governance models in place (position vs career civil service systems, audit office vs court of accounts, centralised vs decentralised, etc.), it has raised its qualitative requirements on candidate countries in the last decade.

The sustainability of the politico-administrative systems in place in (potential) candidate countries should also be of concern. A lesson learned from the 2004 enlargement experience is that “becoming an EU Member State” is simpler than “being a Member State”: it is not good enough to adopt legislation and create institutions to become an EU member state and then not maintain them after accession. Those newly created politico-administrative systems and institutions are essential for the new member countries to cope with the obligations of EU membership and to share and implement domestically the values of the European Administrative Space.


Following the ENP Review results presented by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on 18 November 2015, the stabilisation of the region in political, economic and security related terms is of key importance. What remains to be done for the ENP countries’ public administrations in order to increase that stabilisation?

The importance of public administration reform in the revised ENP is, understandably, reinforced. When and where the State is captured by private interests, the democratisation process requires that public institutions are reinstated, reinforced and empowered. This means that capacities will need to be created in many key institutions such as the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministries of Finance, line ministries, local governments and Parliaments. Constitutional counter power institutions such as Parliament, Ombudsman, External audit, judiciary and administrative justice will also need to be reinforced.


And, what about the public administrations of the EU Member States? What are, from your point of view, the main challenges that their civil services face nowadays? Is the European Commission’s Digital Agenda 2020 and the management of data part of these challenges? 

Data sciences (also known as “big data”) are possibly one of the main “game changers” for government management in the coming years. While a lot of work has been done to explore the potential benefits of big data in the business sector, less interest has been devoted so far to Government analytics. Public administrations are major producers and users of data. Smartly combining statistics, maths and computer sciences, administrations will be better equipped to formulate evidence-based policies, monitor their implementation and evaluate their impact. However, data sciences should not substitute political decisions. On the contrary, policy and decision-makers should remain in the driving seat and use evidences to formulate better policies, and steer them more efficiently. Citizens can also use data analytics to independently monitor public policies and service delivery, helping the administration deliver better services. Data analysis could also enable oversight and control institutions to deliver better recommendations to governments on implementation, promote transparency and fight against fraud.


And last but not the least… how does it feel, being back at the College?

The College has evolved, and at the same time it has not. The EU substance has grown in size, depth and complexity. So have the students’ skills, knowledge and number. The “Esprit de Bruges” is – more than ever - still there. Working at the College, I now understand how this spirit is created and maintained over the years: it has largely to do with the quality of the College staff and their genuine interest in the students’ intellectual and humanist development. I have the chance of working and discussing with academia from all departments and I am impressed with their curiosity, open-mindedness and genuine commitment for excellence. Visiting professors and practitioners come from a wide range of professional horizons and are also committed to generously sharing their experience. Today, Europe is at a tilting point, and I joyfully see students argue, discuss and debate Europe of the future.   




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