Prof. Dr. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (Professor of Democracy Studies, Humboldt University; Germany)

02.10.2010 - Interview conducted by Joel MacMillan &and James Hood

Q1. Good governance has been essential for development plans over the past 15 years, but its results have been sporadic. From a country to country standpoint, development aid has been met with some resistance when the developmental aid has been tied to something else. Have there been any noticeable trends in terms of changes of approach when it comes to making policies that improve good governance as a form of development aid?

The most important thing which happened is in conditionalityís. The goal of international aid is to tie good governance with assistance as in the case of the millennium corporation. Nevertheless, it does not mean that good governance is the only condition of assistance. Countries have very soft grounds for rich states who want to help out other states, draw strategic regions, and have commercial interests. In the case of the European Union, when we look at the connection between what is called a ďgovernance facilityĒ, because Europe also has a governance facility, although people do not know, and the assistance we give to other countries, we do not find any systematic correlation. In other words, we claim that we help countries if they make progress on governance, but in reality we donít do it. The reason is we donít want to prevent immigration from certain countries, so this is why despite the fact that these mechanisms were created, and in some countries, the United States for example, enforce it. However, this is not making much of a difference. Where I would expect more evolution, in particular of terms of funding, is in civil society. Itís a good thing to make clear to countries, to give a clear signal that you expect improvements in governance, but on the other hand in many of these countries, you have very weak and powerless civil societies which would simply need help to build the constraints, because donors cannot clean countries. Governments more often than not are contributors to the state of things, they are contributors to corruption. So what you need to do is build accountability, you need to get assistance beyond the government to local voices to people who have their best interests and fight corruption. †This is a revolution that has yet to come, but it will happen because most donors continue to give to governments who are still corrupt.

Q2.Are developed nations sufficiently sensitive that it can be quite difficult in overcoming in these culturally entrenched practices when it comes to corruption?

I donít believe in culturally entrenched practices, I believe in equality which historically have been developed between groups to prevent any one group for having an undue advantage-in other words, for preventing the private ownership of the state. The state should be autonomous, and not belong to any group of interests in any modern state in the world, and there is no one who defines a state otherwise. What is difficult though is to enforce it, because in many new democracies the state is actually in the illegal property of various private groups. Some of them have actually been legitimized through elections, but once they are elected, they start spoiling the state and they start manipulating the law, and start to do things that are not democratic. What happened in the developed countries, at some point there was enough of an equilibrium for groups to prevent one another from doing this. This is when the state developed, and had the will of its own to defend its own interests, and to develop a bureaucracy which belongs to the state and does not belong to any other political parties. That is a very difficult thing to build in other countries and the grounds for this kind of particular reasons that you see can be ethnic, religious, clan, tribe, family, or it could be purely political or ideological. In other words a socialist party would only cater to other socialist governments, and the conservative party to only other conservative parties. The real question is, is this just a phase democracies are going through, or if the risk exists that they become stabilized in this phase. Then you will have low-quality democratic regimes all around the world, and if you look at Latin American countries, there are states that have been like this for many decades. So it is a very serious risk that countries have an unbalanced equilibrium in which the state never becomes fully autonomous. This is where we should try and help.

Q3. There are certain frameworks and requirements countries must meet to become an EU member state. That being the case, some countries have joined without fully meeting certain requirements, and other countries have since violated EU membership rules. Ireland, Portugal, and Greeceís national debt exceeded the 3% GDP rule. So what are your comments on the legitimacy of the EU if countries continue to violate such rules?

Well there is a revolution here now because the European council at Stockholm last year, they decided that Europe needs to create a unified monetary system for good governance and controlling corruption across old and new members alike. This would have been inconceivable a few years back, but this was made possible by the notorious example of Greece in which there is not only mismanagement of budget, but also consistent systemic allegations of fraud and corruption. The proposal is going to be made by the director of freedom,justice and security which I understand will be next March. I was among the people who were consulted for this, and it is a very difficult thing to propose under the current legal framework.How would we go into Italy and supervise what Mr. Berlusconi does? There is considerable opposition from some member countries, but there is also some support. This is just the beginning, and more Europeans will demand it. Look at the public opinion in Europe, over two thirds of Europeans say corruption is a major problem in their country. So the argument we should make to convince countries to move on is that they risk such a serious democratic deficit if they donít show that they donít accept this kind of European government corruption.

Q4. Talking about good governance while incredibly important, is very frustrating. Could you give an example of a smooth transition of a state towards good governance?

Well my favourite example is Estonia, a country which comes from the former Soviet Union and communist regimes were not modern regimes that people imagined. There were regimes in which the party activist went to different shops and while people were queuing for smoked fish, they were eating caviar. This is a very negative legacy that all former communist countries had, and†some of them really didnít manage to change these sort of things. Estonia is one of the most successful countries because the way they did it is that they dried the many sources of corruption by very liberal approaches to government. In other words they reduced the role of government spending so much, that they restricted the areas of discretionary spending. They also copied the Finnish model of ďE-GovernmentsĒ so you can pay your parking tickets to your taxes on one electronic card. They were greatly helped by the fact they are a small nation and were culturally homogenized. But this is a good example, I donít think what they have done can ever be replicated in civil society. They had a challenging civil society where they supervised the government, and the government accepted this, and they did not try to put these people in jail, quite the contrary. Plus they never harassed them and they worked very well together.

Thank you very much for your time.