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Vice-President of the European Commission Responsible for Interinstitutional Relations and Administration

Public Administration Reform in the Western Balkans: at the Heart of Democracy and the Rule of Law

Conference on Service, Skills and Capacity - Key Challenges in Europe for building a Modern Public Administration

Belgrade 7th October 2011

Mr President, Ministers, distinguished guests

It is a great pleasure to be at this event today and my presence here demonstrates the importance the Commission attaches to public administration reform. It is, as you know, an important element of the region's progress of moving towards the EU, and part of the political criteria on which progress is assessed.

The 2011 enlargement package will be adopted by the European Commission next week. I am not, therefore, in a position to be able to go into details as to what the report will contain but there will as is the case every year be a focus on developments related to public administration reform.

However, when the repercussions of the economic crisis are still being felt around Europe and the world, it is important to recall the significance of our enlargement policy.

Enlargement matters because it reinforces peace and stability in Europe. It is in our strategic interest to take the enlargement process forward on the basis of the agreed principles and conditions. The enlargement process helps us to better achieve our policy objectives in areas which are key to economic recovery and sustainable growth.

One thing which I can state is that it has been a good year for the enlargement process as whole. The completion of Croatia's accession negotiations has given a new momentum to the process. By Croatia meeting the conditions for membership and the European Union fulfilling its commitments we have also demonstrated that this is a credible process, a process where hard work and a political will to achieve sometime difficult results is rewarded and reaffirmed the credibility of the process.

The accession of Croatia will be a major step in the historic project of integrating the Western Balkans into the EU. The EU has consistently proclaimed the inclusiveness of its policy towards the Western Balkans, and Croatia's example should serve as an incentive and catalyst for the rest of the region to accelerate its course towards the EU. In view of the EU’s commitments, as well as the history and geography of the region, ‘unfinished business’ will remain until the whole of the Western Balkans are included, once the conditions are met.

Ladies and gentlemen

Public administration reform and good governance continue to be key priorities under the political criteria. The overriding principles are transparency, accountability and effectiveness in the public administration.

Adequate horizontal administrative procedures concerning human resource management and public financial management are crucial for the implementation of the acquis in all chapters.

The public administration must have the capacity to provide citizens and enterprises with quality public services, where possible through the use of ICT (e-government). I understand that this was also one of the three topics at yesterday's high-level expert meetings.

E-government has indeed the potential of improving the quality of public services while cutting the costs in the public administration. One could add that it also promotes transparency and accountability in the administration. By putting fundamental public services on line you'll reduce the risks for corruption.

E-government therefore figures importantly on the Commission's own agenda. Last December we issued a Communication on the European eGovernment Action Plan 2011-2015 ("Harnessing ICT to promote smart, sustainable and innovative Government").

Public administration reform, based on an adequate legal framework, is also essential for democracy and the rule of law. This includes central bodies such as Ombudsman and Supreme Audit Institutions for checks and balances in the political-administrative system.

Legislation on among others civil service, administrative procedures, administrative disputes, access to public information, conflicts of interest, and political party funding are intended to ensure a non-politicised and stable civil service and to prevent opportunities for corruption.

This brings me to another topic which was discussed by you yesterday: Management Skills Development for Public Administration. In most if not all countries, legislation relating to civil servants and other public employees are currently being reviewed.

I can only underline the importance of ensuring that recruitment procedures are transparent and merit-based, and that political appointments are kept to a minimum. This is of course valid for both central and local government.

An adequate territorial division and delegation of powers from central government to local and regional authorities with corresponding transfer of funding is important for the application of the subsidiary principle within countries and to enhance democratisation.

Overall the forthcoming progress reports will acknowledge where progress has been made but will also highlight where each country must increase its efforts to improve its public administration according to an overall national strategy.

Of course each of you here faces many challenges which are similar in nature. Co-operation between you could bring considerable mutual benefits and of course regional cooperation is an essential element of the Stabilisation and Association process. It should not be undermined by divergences over the Kosovo status. Regional cooperation is truly effective when it is inclusive.

As I mentioned before, public administration reform is one of the most important key issues in the context of the accession process. Successful implementation of all reforms requires the necessary structures and capacity. Investing in upgrading administrative capacity and enhancing professionalism and the de-politicisation of the public administration is therefore highly important.

The European Commission has been assisting public administration reform through our financial assistance. We support PAR through several means, such as technical assistance to national and regional programmes, the TAIEX instrument for seminars and study visits, twinning projects with Member States which sees civil servants from the member states passing on their experience to administrations in the region. OECD´s SIGMA programme is principally funded by the Commission, and last but not the least the Regional school for public administration (ReSPA) for joint training events which was inaugurated earlier this year.

Mr President, distinguished guests, Public administration reform is central both to the future well-being of all your citizens but also to your European aspirations. I am heartened by the work which you are undertaking together and I am certain that it will provide an impetus for the hard work ahead.

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