DO NEW CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE ROUTINES?

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND SERVICE DELIVERY DURING THE COVID – 19 PANDEMIC IN THE WESTERN BALKANS

The COVID-19 outbreak introduced significant changes in our everyday lives. Online platforms for video communication and commerce sales are booming, while the population is, by and large, changing its habits. Particularly hit are service delivery systems where both service providing institutions and their clients had to accommodate to the new modes of interaction. In this way, the pandemic has also raised important questions about the nature and quality of administrative services in these extraordinary circumstances. As our direct contacts with institutions have been minimized, the relevance of electronic services (e-services) as
primary means of interaction with public administration gains importance.

Full policy brief in English available here.

How and why is Greta Thunberg a challenge for world leaders?

Author: Hana Sarajlić

Greta Thunberg is a seventeen-year-old Swedish environmental activist, who started her activism in 2017, which has inspired the international movement to combat climate change. At the age of fifteen, instead of at school, she spent her days in front of the Swedish Parliament building, calling for stronger action by government structures on climate change, holding the “School Strike for Climate ” sign. Just a year later, she decided to pause schooling for one academic year to dedicate herself to encouraging world leaders to address the issue of climate change. She has become a leading voice, inviting millions to join climate protests around the world. By directly addressing what world leaders could do, but did not do about climate change, she has provoked reactions from many politicians and leaders, most of whom tend to be very critical. The severity of reactions to a 16-year-old activist with an autism spectrum disorder can be described by various psychological processes, including the tendency to attribute a person’s behavior to her dispositional characteristics such as age, but also the autism spectrum disorder that many have used as an argument against her propaganda.

Key words: Greta Thunberg, Activism, The environmental movement, Climate change, Climate crisis, World leaders, Populism

VPI BH RESEARCH INTERNSHIP paper, Foreign Policy Initiative BH, 2020.

Mentor: Lejla Ramić-Mesihović, PhD

English version: How and why is Greta Thunberg a challenge for world leaders?

B/H/S version: Available soon

WHAT DO CITIZENS TELL US ABOUT ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES?

The second public perception survey in the Western Balkans

KEY FINDINGS

• Most of citizens in the Western Balkans perceive that dealing with public administration has become easier in the past two years (57%). This view is more pronounced in Kosovo, Serbia and Albania (73%, 65% and 63% respectively), on the one hand, than in Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia (38% and 48%) on the other. Figures in Montenegro are around the average with 55%.

• With regards to the time needed to obtain administrative services, the figures are very similar to the ones in dealing with public administration. On average, 57% of respondents in the region agree that this time has decreased. Kosovo, Serbia and Albania are considerably above the average, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia below it, whereas the figures in Montenegro do not statistically differ from the regional average.

• The majority of respondents in the region also agrees that there have been efforts by governments to make administrative procedures simpler for citizens and businesses (58%). Again, Kosovo, Serbia and Albania score higher (70%, 70% and 62%), while North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are lagging behind the regional average with 51% and 37% respectively.

• Citizens are largely aware of electronic services but they do not use them as much. The minority of 39% of respondents in the region say they use these services sometimes or often. E-services are used more in Serbia and North Macedonia than in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Albania. Montenegro is between these two groups of countries.

• The public in the Western Balkans sees governments more responsive to citizens’ feedback on how to improve administrative services than it did in 2017. It also reports that citizens or civil society have been more involved in the monitoring of administrative services. These changes have been most obvious in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, while somewhat less so in Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia. By contrast, no positive change since the 2017 survey has been recorded in Albania.

• As for the sociodemographic categories, the results show that public sector employees and citizens holding a university degree have somewhat more positive perception of public administration than the other sociodemographic groups.

• The COVID-19 pandemic does not seem to have substantially changed the nature of interaction with public administration.

Full report in English available here 

The reasons behind the lack of progress made within the Berlin Process

Author: Emir Velić

The Berlin Process, an initiative promoted since 2014 mainly by the German government, was perceived to be a much-needed boost in helping the Western Balkan countries in their EU integration paths, by aiming to tackle some of the biggest structural problems in the region. The agenda of the Berlin Process focused on connecting people, states, and economies, and it introduced projects and initiatives in the fields of economic connectivity, infrastructure, and youth cooperation. However, the move towards the end-goal of the process has been rather slow, since not much actual progress towards the EU integration of the WB countries has been made. This paper argues that the Berlin Process has not resulted in swifter EU integration of Western Balkan countries partly because it did not introduce a systematic monitoring mechanism to track the developments made during the process, but mainly due to the fallacies in the EU enlargement process itself.

Key words: Berlin Process, European Union, Western Balkans, EU enlargement, EU integration

VPI BH RESEARCH INTERNSHIP paper, Foreign Policy Initiative BH, 2020.

Mentor: Lejla Ramić-Mesihović, PhD

English version: The reasons behind the lack of progress made within the Berlin Process PDF*

B/H/S version: Available soon

About Emir Velić 

Emir Velić is a third-year student of International Relations and European Studies at the International Burch University. During his studies, he became familiar with the modern theories of international relations, and began expressing special interests in geopolitics and European integration. In cooperation with the Diplomacy Club of Burch University, he had opportunities to meet numerous officials of international organizations, as well as ambassadors of foreign countries. He believes that these experiences have helped him better understand global political trends, including the challenges that Bosnia and Herzegovina faces in conducting its foreign policy.

The point where EU’s top-down conditionality hits executive bias in developing democracies of the Western Balkans

Author: Hata Kujraković

The main reform driver of the Western Balkan countries is the EU integration path. Within the process of adoption and implementation of the necessary norms and reforms, the EU primarily engage in a dialogue with the executive branch members, deepening the executive bias. Even though the domestic parliaments are not completely kept out of the process, there is a lack of formal political dialogue between the EU and the MPs from the WB countries. The chances of the national parliaments and the civil society sector to scrutinize the accession process are very limited due to the EU’s top-down conditionality. This negatively affects the democratization of the WB countries and calls for a greater inclusivity of the whole process.

Keywords: European Union, Accession process, Top-down conditionality, Executive bias, Western Balkans, Democratization

VPI BH RESEARCH INTERNSHIP paper, Foreign Policy Initiative BH, 2020.

Mentor: Lejla Ramić-Mesihović, PhD

English version: The point where EU’s top-down conditionality hits executive bias in developing democracies of the Western Balkans PDF*

B/H/S version: Available soon

About Hata Kujraković

Hata Kujraković is an MSc student of European Affairs at Lund University, Sweden. She holds a BA in International Relations and European Studies from International Burch University, BiH. She has worked on various projects related to the improvement and promotion of human rights and advancement of knowledge in the sciences among students in BiH. Her interests are political processes in the EU. Hata is a Humanity in Action BiH fellow, where she also worked as a project assistant.

The Interaction Between the EU’s Climate Change Objectives and its State Aid Regulation in the Area of Renewable Energy

Our associate Davor Vuletić has published a scientific paper on the topic “The Interaction Between the EU’s Climate Change Objectives and its State Aid Regulation in the Area of Renewable Energy” for the Croatian Yearbook of European Law and Policy.

This paper analyses the interaction between the EU’s climate change objectives and its state aid regulation in the area of renewable energy through the chronology of the adoption of the EU’s key policy documents and related legislation. The EU’s state aid rules impose certain restrictions on the public financing of renewable energy, which is crucial for reaching the EU’s climate change objectives in due time. The paper identifies four challenges in this respect. The ultimate challenge for the EU is how to reconcile science, the market economy and energy politics. Another challenge for the EU was the diverging national energy policies before the ‘energy title’ was introduced in the Lisbon Treaty. The third challenge for the Commission is how to move the climate change issues up to the top decision-making level. The final challenge is the state aid framework that supports climate change mitigation, whose upcoming changes should address the gap between ambition and reality. The paper aims to assess the policy consistency of the EU’s climate change legislation in order to determine whether the EU’s credibility as a ‘green leader’ is just nominal. The notion of ‘nominal green leader’ is related to the consistency of the EU’s climate change legislation which seems not to have had the expected effect determined by the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement. The paper brings the ambitious policies face to face with the data on state aid provided for climate and energy targets and compares them with the technological expectations in renewable energy deployment. The question that arises is whether it is time for the EU to balance the understanding of ‘common interest’ more towards climate change mitigation at the expense of certain elements of competition policy.

Keywords: climate change, competition, electricity generation, internal market, renewable energy, state aid.

The article in English is available here.

Vol 16 (2020): ONLINE FIRST | Croatian Yearbook of European Law and Policy (cyelp.com).

Breaking the impasse: Exploiting new opportunities to strengthen EU-Western Balkans relations

This discussion paper argues that successful economic and democratic transformation of the Western Balkans depends not only on a more coherent political engagement of the EU and its member states with the region, but also on a more effective use of the full range of tools within the enlargement policy toolbox. The revised methodology for accession negotiations and the recently announced Economic and Investment Plan (EIP) have the potential to revive the region’s sluggish EU integration process. For these instruments to succeed, it would be essential to show that they help drive the process forward. This will only be the case if negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia are launched, i.e. the first Inter-governmental Conferences (IGCs) are held during the German presidency of the Council of the EU. In this way, the EU and its member states will show their actual commitment to the process and also likely incentivise the other countries in the region to speed up their domestic transformation processes in view of EU accession.

Download the paper here PDF*.

Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen?

The two-day activity of the Foreign Policy Initiative BH Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen? as a part of the project Make Future Together: The EU and the Western Balkans from Youth Perspective, which consisted of yesterday’s focus group with young people from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina and today’s panel discussion that included experts and youth representatives from yesterday’s event with the goal to raise awareness of the Internet and the socio-political engagement of young people towards a wider audience, and to provide concrete solutions.

Over the last few years, the scope and use of digital tools such as social media has expanded significantly in many areas of our daily lives. One of them is the political sphere, where citizens get involved in discussions and debates and gather information about political events. The aim of the event is to explore the practices and attitude of young people on this issue, in order to determine how social media can be used as a tool to strengthen democracy. Topics discussed were internet freedom, misinformation and fake news.

Today, representatives of young people who discussed at yesterday’s event, had the opportunity to present their views, opinions and conclusions about social networks and the Internet in general, as a means for their daily activities. By talking to people who work directly in this field, such as Irhana Čajdin from Group 9 and Emir Zulejhić from the Raskrinkavanje.ba portal, they came to new insights into practices concerning young people online. Of course, on behalf of the Delegation of the European Union in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vladimir Pandurevic, Head of the Civil Society Program, EIDHR, also addressed us, emphasizing that active cooperation with young people is what makes such projects successful.

Some of the conclusions from yesterday’s discussion include “two sides of the same coin” (that is, the Internet), where young people singled out the following: positive sides include information gathering, online social activism and connecting with family and friends, whereas fake news, bad influence on the mental state of users, and hate speech depict the negative sides. In addition, young people dedicated their discussions to proposing possible solutions, highlighting the reporting of negative content, continuous education of young people, and indicating the use of beauty filters in published photos.

Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen? is a part of the project Make Future Together: The EU and the Western Balkans from Youth Perspective which is implemented by the Foreign Policy Initiative BH in cooperation with other members of the regional Think For Europe Network (TEN), the Institute for International Relations in Rome, the Bronislaw Geremek Foundation Center in Warsaw and the Centre for European Policy in Brussels. The project is funded by the European Union as a part of their Europe for Citizens program.

 

The first day is over – Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen?

Today, the Foreign Policy Initiative BH held a virtual roundtable discussion with a group of young people from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a part of our event: Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen?

Together with this young group of participants, we explored their practices and attitudes related to citizen involvement in discussions and debates, as well as information gathering on political developments on the Internet. In this way, we have identified ways in which social media can be used as a tool to strengthen democracies. In general, the main focus was on the topics of internet freedom, misinformation and fake news.

On the second day, young people will present their ideas and perceptions to the public, and together with experts in the field of media literacy, as well as those who work together with young people, further discuss these topics.

Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen? Is a part of the project Make Future Together: EU and the Western Balkans from the Youth Perspective, implemented by the Foreign Policy Initiative in cooperation with other members of the regional Think For Europe Network (TEN), the Institute for International Relations in Rome, the Bronislaw Geremek Foundation Center in Warsaw and the Centre for European Policy in Brussels. The project is funded by the European Union as a part of their Europe for Citizens programme.

The Trump Cards: Bringing more Questions to the Table

Photo: Illustration/FPI BH

By Emina Kuhinja

Triple pandemic attack, police brutality and racial division, numerous global enemies, lost political partners, disrupted reputation, taken together with a president who is announcing his intention to preserve his status by all means, stand for the current situation in what is perceived to be a model of democracy – the United States of America (USA). More like a scenario for a dystopian movie than a political setting in a democratic country, this context serves President Donald Trump very well, as he does not fail in entertaining the wider masses with his typical performance of Trumpism. Certainly, to never underestimate Trump should have been a lesson learned after the 2016 Presidential elections.

With the 2020 presidential elections coming up in the US and having in mind the state of affairs in the US and globally, one has to question the notion of making America great again during Donald Trump’s four-year term. Not only have new problems emerged, but the old ones persisted and even amplified. Understanding the current issues and ways in which the ongoing situation is (not) handled by the current president is key to exploring the U.S. context in the run up to November elections.

Although Trump’s public appearances sometimes seemed entertaining to the rest of the world, the truth is that American administration managed to achieve some accomplishments. The most lasting impact of Trump’s administration may be seen in the federal judiciary, through a series of appointments. Specifically, Donald Trump appointed 53 judges for the U.S. courts of appeals (more often referred to as circuit courts) during his first mandate, compared to 55 appointments over the course of two mandates, made by the former U.S. president Barack Obama. Considering the fact that these courts are regarded as the most powerful and influential in the United States, consisted of federal judges with life tenure, this essentially means that the impact of those appointments under Trump’s administration will be a lasting one. To grasp the magnitude of this impact, it is important to understand the role of those courts in the U.S. politics. Namely, because of their ability to set legal precedents in US states and the fact that their appeals are taken to the Supreme Court of the United States, they have a strong policy influence on many aspects of the United States’ law. Thus, the final decision delivery will be influenced by conservatives appointed in those courts, whether Trump stays after elections or not.

Furthermore, what will count as Trump’s most memorable, and yet one of the most controversial ones, legislative achievement is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law in December 2017. Some of the changes brought by the law include reduced tax rates for businesses and individuals, increased standard deduction and family tax credits, as well as an increase in stock prices. The main expected outcomes of this law include increase in deficits to stimulate the economy, increase in GDP and percentage of employment. Despite Republicans’ enthusiasm about the tax overhaul, the British Guardian reported that the law has still been perceived with a certain level of controversy by a group of tax law professors from the U.S., who argued it to be a ”rushed and secretive process that resulted in a deeply flawed legislation”. Mainly democrats opposed the legislation, while perceiving it as contributing only to corporations and high earners at the expense of middle-class communities.

When it comes to the question of national security, in March 2019, Trump’s administration succeeded in leading the operation against the so-called Islamic state, who lost its forcibly occupied territory, as well as their terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi later in that same year. It is the results like these that contributed to an increase in popularity of Trump’s rhetoric on making America great (again) prior to the pandemic.

On the other hand, his leadership has been questioned and contested throughout his term, primarily due to his populistic narrative, controversial statements and neglection of science in policy-making. The most recent example of this lies in Trump’s (mis)handling of the ongoing pandemic situation caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 virus. By not introducing adequate measures, the US became the country worst hit by the virus in the world. Irrespective of that, the decision for the United States to withdraw their membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) stands as yet another hasty and irrational move, predicted to result in a disastrous scenario for the public health.

Another key feature of Trump’s term have been public protests against police brutality, sparked by the death of George Floyd, which further intensified the existing racial tensions. Still, Trump continued to downplay this issue, often avoiding comments unless they entailed criticism of the protestors. Participants of the protests have been referred to as criminals and thugs, criticized for practicing their democratic right to protest and raise their voices to protect minority rights. This portrays the ambiguity of Trump’s politics: the freedom of choice on the one hand entailing the choice to (dis)respect the restrictive measures and the use of masks, but neglecting this choice when it comes to organizing protests against the systemic threat towards Afro-Americans, Hispanics and immigrants. Finally, Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacist groups caused a huge public outrage.

Trump’s disruptive policies have continued throughout the election campaign. His efforts to secure a second term include blocking of the revenue for the U.S. Postal Service, to ensure a more difficult ballot processing, which he believes could deliver votes that go in favor of his opponent. For Democrats, these disruptive attempts clearly underline that the president is trying to limit voting rights, while further exposing the voting population to the dangers of the virus if they go to the polls.

On top of all that, the death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was yet another hit for all those who respect democratic principles in the USA. Her death has caused a serious debate between Democrats and Republicans, as well as among wider public. Democrats have strongly argued for judge replacement to take place after the elections, whereas Trump opposed this, starting the nomination process way before the very elections scheduled for November 3rd.

Trump’s election campaign was briefly disrupted when the President, the First Lady and some members of the Republican Party got infected by COVID-19. However, Trump’s controversial return to the White House after less than a week since contagion, meant to represent his strength and to support a perception among his voters that the virus is not as strong as claimed by scientists. Furthermore, Trump claimed that his infection was a “blessing from God”, as he got to learn more about the treatment, which he falsely identifies as the cure. In his public address, Trump claimed to be able to provide the same treatment to Americans.

All in all, global reputation of USA has been damaged by Trump’s leadership, marked by divisive politics, fear and spreading hatred. The image of US democracy prior to 2016 is now significantly distorted by internal conflicts and division, which are threatening to damage the legacy of American democratic heritage. Trump is attempting to convince the public and voters that Democrats want anarchy, protests, looting and free movement of migrants. On the other hand, he aims to create a perception that Republicans are the only true patriots and heroes, who are there to protect the rule of law, and the rights provided by the US Constitution.

Trump’s leadership style centers on rhetoric that upholds populist rhetoric. Trump’s most recent statement that the elections should be treated as unjust if he is not re-elected raises new concerns and uncertainties in regards to the upcoming US elections.

The end of Trump’s first mandate brings along more questions than answers. Is America ‘great again’? Maybe for some, but many in the US and globally, the U.S. democracy has suffered greatly throughout Trump’s term in office. The consequences of his mandate will remain visible for a long time, whether Trump gets re-elected or not. The final decision is on the American people, and if re-elected, Trump will certainly shape the U.S. democracy for the foreseeable future.