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Rule of Law is Not Only a National Matter

21 December 2018

You make the backbone of rule of law,” said Wouter Plomp, Dutch Ambassador to Macedonia, in a welcome speech to an audience made up of policy advisors, members of the judiciary and other civil servants working in the government and justice sectors who participated in the Matra Rule of Law Training Programme in 2018. He delivered this speech at the Rule of Law Alumni Days, which took place 11 to 12 December 2018 in Belgrade, Serbia.

During the speech, Mr. Plomp described the continued and increased importance of the rule of law. He went on to explain that, “rule of law is not only a national matter,” that the EU is a “union of certain common values” in which laws pertaining to the shared values affect all citizens across Europe.  This transnational nature illustrates why civil servants and key actors working in the government and justice sectors in one (their own) country are seen as partners, which contribute to the rule of law for other countries—like the Netherlands. They are in fact the backbone of the rule of law.

Mr. Plomp emphasized that the purpose of the programme was not to get participants to “copy the Dutch way” of implementing the rule of law. The unique circumstances and traditions of participating countries should be taken into account. Instead, the programme aims to facilitate an exchange of experiences between the Dutch hosts and country participants, on topics and areas in within the rule of law on which we all work. “A lesson learned during these two days might help you think of a solution for your [own country’s] challenges,” he said.

During the event Sabine Zwaenepoel, Senior Expert for the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) discussed the EU’s approach toward cooperation in the rule of law with Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries, many of which are represented by the participants of the Training Programme. She offered a thorough analysis of the tools at the EU’s disposal to promote rule of law reform, and shed light on major challenges, such as high levels of corruption, state capture, and deficiencies in the independence, accountability, effectiveness and efficiency of the justice sector. Ms Zwaenepoel concluded her keynote address by stating that rule of law reform is a long term and hugely complex process, with lots of ups and downs, and that its success depends on a combination of political will, domestic ownership, and sufficient implementation capacity on the part of the public administration.

Matra stands for transformation of society” – Wouter Plomp

An interactive panel discussion followed the keynote address, which delved further into the topic and into the realities of rule of law reform in Serbia. The panelists were Tanja Miščević, Head of the Negotiating Team for Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union, Henk van den Dool, Dutch Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, and Sabine Zwaenepoel. Ms. Miščević shared with the audience the challenges she encounters when trying to convey to the Serbian public how reforms in the framework of the accession negotiations, referred to by her as the “chapterisation of rule of law,” are in the interest of the Serbian people.

After the opening session, participants reported to each other on their progress in achieving change plans they had formulated during the training programme. They also had the opportunity to take part in workshops on rule of law topics.

NHC Executive Director Pepijn Gerrits facilitated the workshop on cooperation between civil society and the public sector. During the workshop Katarina Golubovic, Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights/ YUCOM and Maja Stojanovic, Director of Civic Initiatives, discussed why cooperation between civil society and the public sector is important and some of the challenges faced by civil society. While during the actual training programme in the Netherlands, participants often have the opportunity to hear from civil society representatives in the country, this was welcome opportunity for participants to engage with a civil society representative from their own region—at least in the case of the participants from the Western Balkans.

Matra stands for transformation of society” said Mr. Plomp. The important role the participants of the Training Programme have in a well-functioning rule of law and contributing to a positive transformation of their own society, and the wider European society is something that should not be forgotten.

The participants of the Alumni Day event took part in the following training from 2018: Integrity of Civil Servants; Administration of Justice, and Human Rights and Minorities. The Matra Rule of Law Training Programme is open to participants from Albania, Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

You can find out more about the programme here: Matra Rule of Law Training Programme