Interview to Nora Mehsen, Sector Officer, EEA and Norway Grants
1. Mrs. Mehsen, why do you think is it important to participate in this kind of initiatives?
It’s a pleasure to be here, to discuss such an important topic – good governance and anti-corruption in Southeast Europe. We know that despite much progress in the region, there are still some challenges present, such as inequality, social exclusion, shrinking civic space and lack of public trust in governments. These challenges are not limited only to a national level, they are crosscutting and cross-border challenges. Gathering actors that work with these topics through cross-border cooperation is incredibly important, to discuss the common challenges across the region and find shared solutions.
2. Considering the title of the forum, “Towards Innovative Public-Private Partnership Solutions”: What are “innovative” ways forward in your opinion?
We have seen some best practices mentioned today, for example the use of big data regarding public procurements. How publishing public procurement information can be a tool for action for civil society organisations, and other entities, to monitor where the money is going and to understand better where there can a high risk of corruption. One of today’s speakers mentioned that some fast-track regulatory systems in public procurement during the Covid-19 pandemic could actually entail a high risk of corruption. So, using big data is an interesting and innovative way to foster more transparency and hold governments accountable.
3. Considering public-private solutions, another point discussed during the forum, what are the most efficient mechanisms for fostering partnerships between public entities and civil society organisations?
A key activity is to empower civil society actors in a structured way and providing them a seat at the table. Because they represent the voices of the public, that in many cases experience apathy because of distrust in their governments. So they function as both a watchdog to and a partner of governments.
4. In the framework of the Fund for Regional Cooperation, how valuable is this Project?
This Project is incredibly valuable. We received over 700 applications under the Fund for Regional Cooperation and the R2G4P Project was one of the 19 selected. This says something not only about the high importance and need for transnational cooperation in Europe, but also about the quality of the Project itself. And with partners from nine countries, many of them being non-EEA countries, and with a Norwegian expertise partner, this project is truly an initiative that works to find common solutions to shared challenges.
5. What could the EU, national governments, international partners and civil society do more in the next decade to bring the region on a sustainable good governance path?
Having clear standards when it comes to anti-corruption and rule of law allows for the creation of a culture of integrity. This is not a fast-track solution. We need a structured way of cooperating among different entities and parts of society, to have standards and procedures to make sure that the values we have and that the laws that are written actually are implemented in practice.
6. What do you believe will be the role of the Fund for Regional Cooperation in the next decade as well?
That is an interesting question. The current mechanism of the EEA and Norway Grants ends in 2021, and Norway recently started negotiations with the EU on a next mechanism. So we are not sure about the future of this particular Fund. But regardless of this, what we do know is that cross-border cooperation as an activity is very important. The situation in Ukraine underlines this point, as Russia’s aggression has not only severely affected Ukraine, it has sent shoch-waves across Europe and on the entire global level. So having cross-border cooperation can only be more important in the decade to come.
Kristina Tsabala, Gloria Trifonova