Principles for public services (i.e. public services for citizens, public administration) that contribute directly to the stability of the free democratic basic order (democracy and the rule of law) in EU countries (Exploratory opinion at the reques

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EMSK arvamus: Principles for public services (i.e. public services for citizens, public administration) that contribute directly to the stability of the free democratic basic order (democracy and the rule of law) in EU countries (Exploratory opinion at the reques

Key points

Through this opinion, the EESC aims to identify criteria and frame European recommendations to make public services operate as a stabilising element for democracy and the rule of law.

The EESC recognises the essential role of smoothly functioning public services in defending core EU values. By ensuring equal and universal access to services to all, including vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, they contribute to social progress and to a vibrant society. Effective public services can play a crucial role of "automatic stabiliser" in time of crises, which have multiplied in the last years in areas like security, economy, asylum, environment, climate and health.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown how an overburdened health system can strain human dignity. Years of austerity have affected public services, weakening their impact. Efficiency does not mean a "reduced role for the state", because poor performing public services lead to high social and economic costs. The pandemic has demonstrated the need for public services to have sufficient trained and capable staff, resources and reserves. Recognising the fundamental nature of public service missions justifies paying public servants properly and that minimum social standards are applied to them throughout Europe.

While Member States are solely responsible for their public services, the EESC proposes common European principles, including:

  • European values enshrined in EU Treaties and law and the "Copenhagen criteria" are a necessary basis for good conduct by administrations in the EU and its Member States;
  • all public services should consistently adhere to the principles of objectivity, integrity, neutrality, the application of law and order, and transparency, respect for others and commitment to the European Union and its citizens;
  • the right to good administration reinforces societal trust. Transparency of public services ensures independent oversight and contributes to the fight against corruption;
  • public services have a protective function with regards to the rule of law. Staff working in public services must be protected to be able to refuse to obey illegitimate service instructions;
  • public services must ensure free access to information and remain available to everyone in person, digitalisation notwithstanding;
  • public services should be interoperable at the European level. Exchanges and job rotation amongst Member States' public services should be possible. All the public services involved in allocating European funds must respect and implement public service principles.