Since the Netherlands is taking on the rotating presidency of the European Union between 1 January and 30 June, it seemed logical to invite HE Hugo Gajus Scheltema, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Hungary as the first guest of the Ludovica Ambassador’s Forum series this year. In his opening speech he briefly spoke about the programme of the presidency focusing on topics of migration, international security; sound, future-proof European finances and a robust Eurozone; the role of Europe as an innovator and job creator; in addition to advanced policies on climate and energy. Building on a national tradition, besides fostering active civilian participation, the Netherlands EU presidency looks forward to deal with questions that are relevant both to people and small ventures – said Mr. Scheltema.
In his lecture titled “Good governance, transparency and accountability in the Netherlands”, the ambassador pointed out that sustainable democracies are inevitably built on trias politica, the clear separation of powers. Other than horizontal accountability, however, great importance is laid on vertical processes as well. The reason why the Netherlands can be so successful is that its governing bodies view the citizens as partners. According to the Law of Public Access issued in 1991, everyone has the right to retrieve the information on which administrative decisions are based. Relying on facts, trade unions, civil bodies and non-governmental organizations are all provided the chance to have their say in an objective manner regarding the functioning of the authorities. As a result, in 2013, the environmental organisation Urgenda representing more than 900 people sued the Dutch government because of its perceptibly lenient provisions applying to the emission of harmful substances. Although the trial continued for almost two years, it finally saw the government lose under the decision of the court in The Hague which ordered the authorities to reduce the emission rate by 25% in the next five years.
In the follow-up panel discussion, dr. Magdolna Csath, research professor at NUPS, regarded the Dutch example as one to follow, but raised the question whether best practices can be exported and applied in countries that have a radically different setup. The concerns were shared by Kálmán Mizsei, former head of the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform Ukraine, who said that external demands can often go against the national tendencies, as in the case of Ukraine or Moldova. Gaius Scheltema responded to the concerns by saying that only democracy can pay off in the long run. As he said, transparency is essential to a well-functioning economy, because predictability is one of the main demands of the investors. Dr. Krisztián Kádár, project manager of the Good Governance Report, asked Mr. Scheltema if he agrees with the tripartite classification of the governing structures differentiating between the robust German public administration, the output-oriented Anglo-Saxon legislation and the Nordic interest in transparency. The ambassador said that no models can be viable as they are much too simplistic in nature. As proposed by the moderator dr. János Bóka, associate professor of NUPS, the night concluded in an informal conversation in which members of the audience have joined in as well.