29 May 2019

Does the EU Want What its Neighbours Need?

"In the Western Balkans and, more recently, in Moldova, we have seen EU-oriented political parties become increasingly dominated by corrupt oligarchs and a false choice posed to citizens of a pro-EU government versus a pro-Russia regime, when all people really want is an honest government that puts in place economic policies that promote sustained prosperity. That priority overrides citizens’ preferences for particular foreign policy orientations. The attraction of closer integration with the EU should be obvious – from access to markets to the freedom to travel, study, and even work in EU countries – but the benefits of democratisation, strengthening of the rule of law, and justice for all are valid even without the perspective of EU membership."

This is an excerpt from "Does the EU Want What Its Neighbours Need", the concluding essay in a publication launched today by the Open Government Partnership at the OGP Global Summit in Ottawa, Canada. The essay in the book, Do We Trust Democracy? A Future Agenda for Europe, is written by New Diplomacy Chair, Jeff Lovitt. The essay concludes a volume where 28 authors from EU member states write about the level of trust in their respective countries from a variety of angles, from media freedoms to participatory democracy, and democracy and immigration.

The final essay looks at trust towards their own governments and towards the EU in the EU's eastern and southern neighbours and in the Western Balkans and Turkey. Jeff Lovitt, who is a member of OGP's International Experts Panel, continues: "Sticks and carrots run the risk of sparking countermovements channelling frustration with protracted EU membership efforts into a more nationalist, inward-looking politics. This phenomenon is partially evident in the politics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and of Milorad Dodik in the Serb-majority entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Indeed, the confidence to combine an embrace of democracy with preservation of traditions, such as religion, can avert what Ivan Krastev has called the 'return to tradition' following the disappointment of the quest for, or imitation of, the 'normality' that the EU was perceived to embody."

The EU "enjoys the highest levels of trust in Georgia (73%) and Armenia (70%). Around two-thirds of Moldovans and Ukrainians also trust the EU. In contrast, two-thirds of citizens are not satisfied with the way democracy works in their country. Moldovans are the most dissatisfied (81%)."

To rebuild trust, Jeff argues, "citizens must above all be confident that the justice system is not marred by corruption and political manipulation. Effective anti-corruption agencies, supported by independent prosecutors and judges, are a top EU priority, which in turn makes it a priority where the local needs and donor priorities converge. A more hard-hitting approach from the EU should put open government and transparent justice at the heart of the agenda. Local experts should be trained and empowered to develop solutions that will work in the local context. International support could take the form of secondment of experts who have taken centre-stage in turning around justice systems in other countries, but the principal outcome must be solutions that inspire trust because they are tailored to the local context and local priorities."

The other authors include OGP Chief of Country Support Paul Maassen, EU Commissioner Věra Jourová, Maltese investigative journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia, Head of Advocacy at CNVOS, Slovenia, Tina Divjak, Latvian MP Maria Golubeva, and President of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, Anna Rurka.

Download the publication here: Do We Trust Democracy? A Future Agenda for Europe

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