Sofia University

Around 18,000 citizens of the former Yugoslavia were denied social, civil, and political rights in an action which, by virtue of its purely administrative nature, prevented any possibility of appeal.

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Experts assess the interplay of citizen and the state in post-Communist Eastern Europe

07 December 2012

A group of experts from across Eastern Europe met in Sofia, Bulgaria last week, at a workshop organized by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society and the University of Sofia as part of a project to assess the post-Communist developments in administrative law across the region.
 
The University of Sofia in Bulgaria played host to the workshop on Administrative Law and Reform in Eastern Europe at which experts from nine countries discussed issues ranging from the influence of EU accession requirements and the eurozone crisis, the relationship between Constitutional Courts and the administrative system, and the effects of corruption on the administration of laws in the countries assessed.
 
The workshop was convened by Professor Denis Galligan from the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society and Dr Daniel Smilov from the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, who will edit the volume of country case studies, to be published next year, in an effort to reassess the interaction between the citizen and the state in central and Eastern Europe as played out through the administrative system.  
 
Bojan Bugarič from the University of Ljubljana opened the discussion by charting the developments since the EU accession of 2004, which brought about a depoliticization of the civil service and the formation of strong independent institutions such as the Constitutional Court, an independent media, and the Information Commissioner’s Office.
 
These developments were followed in 2008 with a period of populist retreat, illustrated by the enactment through administrative law of a serious violation of Constitutional law and human rights in the form of the ‘erased people’ case. This saw around 18,000 citizens of the former Yugoslavia denied social, civil, and political rights in an action which, by virtue of its purely administrative nature, prevented any possibility of appeal.
 
Jana Jaseckova from the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies in Oxford presented a similarly oppositional picture of the Slovakian experience, in which the 1998 elections saw a political shift in alignment with EU accession requirements, and, in 2001 judicial appointments extended from four years to indefinite terms. This move towards greater judicial independence has been undermined, however, by the fact that judges who have been linked with the mafia have proved impossible to remove from office. Despite anti-corruption drives lead by civil society, she concluded, Slovakia still suffers from widespread corruption.
 
A more optimistic view emerged from the assessment of Poland provided by Dorota Pudzianowska from Warsaw University, who described how anti-corruption campaigns and the establishment of an anti-corruption office had resulted in increased efficiency of regulatory bodies. Reforms were further stimulated by the new Constitution of 1997, although the issue of freedom of assembly which it sought to protect has recently become a contested issue once again, with the proposed redrafting of the law in response to riots in Warsaw last year in which the police were called upon to intervene when a series of assemblies turned violent.
 
The Hungarian case was assessed by Monika Magyar, a media lawyer based in Budapest, who argued that political fragmentation has prevented Hungary from establishing a well functioning administrative system, which was restructured by the ruling party Fidesz when it came to power. She depicted through a series of case studies the centralization of assets by the government, the move to return aspects of public administration to state control, and the ‘dead hand’ control exerted by the fact that new policy initiatives will require a two-thirds majority that will be nearly impossible to establish in the near future.
 
Pavel Uhl, a lawyer working at Rychetský Hlaváček Krampera Law Office in Prague, charted the legal traditions of the system of administrative justice in the Czech Republic, which was taken from the Austrian system based on legal positivism. He described the break from these traditions and those of the Communist regime which came about in 2003, when judges who had been appointed to their ten year term in the new Constitutional Court established in 1993 stepped down, and the judges who assumed office inculcated an entirely new mentality unconnected to these legal positivist traditions.
 
Elena-Simina Tanasescu from the University of Bucharest portrayed the Romanian administrative state as one in which clientalism and corruption in the civil service persists to the present day, alongside undue political influence on public administration at all levels.
 
Despite progressive steps such as the 1923 Constitution and the EU accession, the country has been unable to avoid a number of backward steps, not least the austerity measures imposed as a result of the EU crisis, which has seen reductions both in the size of the civil service and the wages of public servants, and a concomitant reduction in the ability of the administration to provide effective public services.
 
The host country of Bulgaria was assessed by Martin Belov from the University of Sofia, who identified a number of shared features with the Romanian system, whilst drawing the distinctions that derive from the Ottoman as opposed to the Austrian influence evident in Bulgaria.
 
Miodrag Jovanović from the University of Belgrade identified as the key trend in Serbia the rise of the regulatory state, which has seen a proliferation of 136 regulatory bodies in the past decade, effectively functioning as a fourth branch of government. The lack of democratic credibility and public accountability of these regulatory bodies constitutes an usurpation of sovereignty from the citizenry which has, in turn, lead to a prevailing political apathy in the country, evident in low voter turn-out at elections.
 
The workshop was brought to a close by Maxim Timofeyev from the Central European University, who described the situation in Russia and the huge expansion of presidential powers in the executive sphere during Putin’s time in office, epitomised by the fact that the President has the power to nominate the Prime Minister as well as the power to liquidate the legislature if they dissent.
 
The contributions from the participants will be revised in the light of the workshop discussion over the coming months, and the book is expected to be published later next year.