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.

VPI BH campaign – “You have the right to know. . . .”

On the occasion of the International The International Day for Universal Access to Information, the Foreign Policy Initiative BH organized a campaign “You have the right to know” on social networks during September and October, which aimed to raise awareness of citizens regarding the importance of free access to information.

In addition to infografics and animations that you can see later in this article, we also organized two special video shows. During the first show we had the opportunity to talk to Dragan Ćuzulan, Coordinator of the Public Administration Reform Coordinator’s Office in BiH and gave answers to the following questions:

  • How much are BiH citizens aware of the importance of freedom of access to all information of institutions?
  • What are the ways and mechanisms for institutions to open up to citizens?
  • Is proactive transparency one way to increase trust?
  • How far is Bosnia and Herzegovina realistically from the European standard of public administration?

The second edition of the special show we talked to Leila Bičakčić, the Director of Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN) and provided answers to the following questions:

  • How to deal with these problems and difficulties faced by media workers in BiH?
  • Is the pursuit of standards of active transparency of public administration the backbone and the usual state of the solution to these problems?
  • How far is Bosnia and Herzegovina realistically from the European standard of public administration?

Check out the content of the campaign below:

Presentation of the study “Foreign authoritarian influence in the Western Balkans”

On Tuesday, 15.09.2020., the Foreign Policy Initiative BH organized a presentation of the study “Foreign Authoritarian Influence in the Western Balkans” online through the Zoom platform.

The study is the result of the project “Understanding and Responding to the Influence of Foreign Actors”, which aims to understand the nature and the degree of authoritarian influence in the Western Balkans, starting with three countries: North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Significant knowledge is available on how Russia is trying to establish European and American political processes, but the influence of Russia and other superpowers (e.g. Turkey, Iran, China) in the Western Balkans, is less known and brought to attention. The aim of the project is to better understand, raise awareness and realize the impact of foreign actors in Eastern and Central Europe. This project aims to create tools that will enable detailed measurement of the influence of actors such as the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, as well as other authoritarian regimes.

In addition to the author, prof. dr. Damir Kapidžić from the Faculty of Political Science, University of Sarajevo and Strahinja Subotić, researcher at the Center for European Policies – CEP, participated in the presentation of the study.

The implementers of this project, in addition to the Foreign Policy Initiative BH, are: Political Capital (Budapest, Hungary); Societas Civilis Institute for Democracy (Skopje, North Macedonia); Center for Democratic Transition (Podgorica, Montenegro), with donor support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

The analysis is only available in English and can be downloaded here.

Study: Foreign Authoritarian Influence in the Western Balkans

The study is the result of the project “Understanding and Responding to the Influence of Foreign Actors”, which aims to understand the nature and quantify the degree of authoritarian influence in the Western Balkans, starting with three countries: Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The implementers of this project, in addition to the BiH Foreign Policy Initiative, are: Political Capital Budapest, Hungary; Societas Civilis Institute for Democracy Skopje, Northern Macedonia; Center for Democratic Transition Podgorica, Montenegro, with donor support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

So far, significant knowledge is available on how Russia is trying to establish European and American political processes, but the influence of Russia and other superpowers (e.g., Turkey, Iran, China) in the Western Balkans is less known and less brought to the spotlight. The aim of the project is to provide a better understanding, raise awareness and respond to the influence of foreign actors in Eastern and Central Europe. This project aims to create tools that will allow detailed measurement of the influence of actors such as the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China and other authoritarian regimes.

Download the study here. (Available only in English)

Authors: Anida Šabanović, Mahir Sijamija, Haris Ćutahija, Milena Gvozdenović, Marko Pankovski, Dorka Takácsy, Dominik Istrate, Veronika Víchová.

Public perceptions of service delivery in the Western Balkans are on the rise

Results from the public perception survey on service delivery suggest that governments in the Western Balkans are striving towards digitalisation and citizen-oriented services.[1] This year’s surveys show that all of the countries in the region are either making progress or remain at the level of the first PAR Monitor 2017/2018.

Public perception points to a more citizen-oriented service delivery

Compared to the results of the previous PAR Monitor, Serbia and Albania record the most noticeable changes with regards to citizens’ perceived simplicity of dealing with public administration (Graph 1). In other words, there were respectively 23 and 18 percentage point increases in these two countries, followed by Montenegro at 14 percentage points.

Survey also show that roughly two thirds of citizens in the region feel that governments are moving towards digitalisation (69%). Apart from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where slightly below 50% of citizens perceive this trend, in all the other countries of the region, between 66 and 81% of citizens surveyed feel this way. At the regional level, citizens noted positive improvement in the time needed to obtain administrative services. This was especially so in Serbia, Albania, and Montenegro, where more than 60% citizens confirmed it has decreased.

It is also worth noting that 58% of citizens in the region claim to recognise governments’ efforts to simplify administrative procedures – more than in the previous PAR Monitor. As before, public administration in Kosovo takes first place according to perceptions, followed by Serbia.

The availability of e-services: more awareness, same levels of usage

The public is increasingly aware of e-services across the Western Balkan countries. Unlike the previous PAR Monitor, no country records below 50% of awareness, with as high as 74% of citizens in Albania (Graph 2). On the flip side, we find that a lot of citizens still do not use these services – a third of citizens in the region stated they had never used them. Additionally, with less than a third of citizens using them either rarely or just sometimes, many used them only occasionally. Notably, only 10% of citizens have used e-services often.

At the same time, surveys show that most citizens in every country (between 70 and 80%) report that e-services are easy to use. This resembles the results of PAR Monitor 2017/2018, in which approximately 80% of citizens surveyed in all countries included reported the ease of use of these services.

Bearing in mind the high awareness figures, a lack of information on e-services is unlikely to account for the low-level usage. More than two thirds of citizens who used e-services, more or less frequently, had little or no difficulties finalising services they requested. Nonetheless, in terms of public perceptions, there has been tangible improvement in citizen-oriented service delivery in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. On the other hand, the situation in Kosovo and North Macedonia has mostly remained unchanged.

[1] As for the 2019/2020 PAR Monitor, public perception of the awareness of and usefulness of feedback mechanisms, and their availability to citizens, is measured with public perception surveys that were implemented in each of the Western Balkan countries in the same manner. Surveys were implemented in the period from 5 to 30 May 2020.

APPLY NOW – Call for Expression of Interest to CSOs interested in PAR monitoring

WeBER 2.0 – Western Balkan Civil Society Empowerment for a Reformed Public Administration is seeking project proposals for the implementation of the Small Grant Facility for support to civil society monitoring of public administration reform at local level. The Call for proposals is in the total amount of 225.000 EUR intended to support up to 30 grants, each worth up to 8000 EUR (7500 EUR on average), out of which 6 in Serbia, 6 in BiH, 5 in Albania, 5 in North Macedonia, 4 in Kosovo, and 4 in Montenegro. Duration of the awarded grants is between 6 and 12 months. WeBER 2.0 project is financed by the European Union (EU). The complete Call for Proposals and all relevant documents are available for download below:

Application package

Providers of administrative services need to regularly reveal the content of feedback by citizens

Brand-new public perception survey results indicate fewer citizen-friendly options for providing opinions on administrative services, compared to PAR Monitor 2017/2018. At the same time, public opinion regarding the involvement of citizens and civil society in monitoring services is clearly growing. When it comes to the availability of information on citizen feedback, websites of service providers are no better than before. Such information on received feedback is mostly absent from their online portals, even in its most basic form.

The public views feedback channels as harder to use but stronger effects of external monitoring of service delivery

Perception surveys indicate that around half of the Western Balkan population sees possibilities to give opinions on the quality of services. This perception grew for almost 20% since the PAR Monitor 2017/2018.[1] On the country level, roughly a third of citizens in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina believe this is the case while in all the others, it reaches more than 50% of population.

In terms of the citizen-friendliness however, things appear to have gotten worse. A striking example is Albania, with 42% less of those surveyed noting that feedback channels are easy to use. In four of the countries, this decline is 30 percentage points or more.

More citizens in the region feel they are involved, together with civil society, in monitoring service delivery by administrations (42% as opposed to 26% previously). This has also led to a growing perception that such involvement has in fact improved service delivery. The difference can go as high as 20 percentage points, as in the cases of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Service providers remain reluctant to divulge details on feedback from citizens

There is a general lack of transparency of the information shared by citizens as feedback. Like the baseline PAR Monitor, administrations share almost no such information regarding five common administrative services. These include property, business, vehicle registration, obtaining personal documents, and VAT declaration and payment.

Still, some have just started publishing information in some areas – in Albania, for vehicle registration, and in Serbia, there is some basic data on the numbers of received and resolved complaints regarding registering businesses.

Overall, without transparency on feedback and how it is being used, citizen-oriented service delivery is hardly imaginable. Providing details on how users feel about services should become business as usual, but is, instead, lacking for the second monitoring cycle in a row. Overall, the PAR Monitor 2019/2020 has shown few major changes, and a certain level of backsliding in two countries.

[1] As in PAR Monitor 2017/2018, public perceptions on awareness of and usefulness of feedback mechanisms, and availability of feedback information to citizens, are measured through public perception surveys implemented in each of the Western Balkan countries in the same manner. Surveys were implemented in the period from the 5 to 30 May 2020.

The fifth meeting of the National Working Group (NWG) for Public Administration Reform (PAR) in BiH

On the Zoom platform, 22/7/2020 the fifth meeting of the National Working Group (NWG*) for Public Administration Reform (PAR) in BiH was held. This was the first meeting of the working group in Bosnia and Herzegovina within the new WeBER2.0 project. At the meeting, Mahir Sijamija, VPI BH Project Officer, announced and presented the new program of small grants for civil society organizations. After that, Anida Šabanović, director of VPI BH and Haris Ćutahija, researcher of VPI BH, held a presentation on the topic “European consultations with citizens: introduction and presentation of methods”. The meeting ended with a discussion on the implementation and priorities of public administration reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on the status and activities of civil society organizations involved.

The event brought together representatives of civil society, as well as experts in the field of public administration reform.

*NWG is a national consultative mechanism between representatives of civil society and relevant state authorities in creation and monitoring of the PAR process in Western Balkan countries. NWGs were established in each of these countries as a part of a wider regional WeBER platform.

Germany takes over EU Council presidency: Joint forces towards recovery

Photo: Illustration/FPI BH

By Hata Kujraković i Mahir Sijamija

The Federal Republic of Germany, as one of the most important partners of Bosnia and Herzegovina, assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1, 2020 with the motto “Together for Europe’s recovery”. Germany, for which this is the 13th EU Council presidency, adopted a program in which the focus was placed on the economic and social recovery from the consequences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program focuses on crisis management and virus prevention, and emphasizes the need for cooperation within the EU as well as internationally. Some of the key priorities of the Germany’s presidency are an inclusive growth strategy, stronger solidarity and a sustainable economy.

Germany as a leader of change in the Union

From the program framework of the presidency, we see the commitment of Germany to mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic that befell the EU, which is a phenomenon that emerged on the postulates of the common market, economy, freedom and tolerance. This refers to a huge financial redistribution, which should amount to 1.85 billion euros. It is an unprecedented act of solidarity, designed to ensure the EU’s continued existence. ” It must now be our common goal to master the crisis jointly, sustainably and with a view to the future and this is precisely what the guiding principle of our Presidency is to be,” Angela Merkel announced, Deutsche Welle. reports.

Climate change, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, digital transformation and Brexit

In addition to overcoming the long-term effects of the crisis, the program also focuses on an additional five areas that include a stronger, fair, sustainable Europe, as well as a Europe of security and common values ​​and a strong Europe in the world. Simultaneously, Germany’s presidency will be focused on improving cohesion within the EU, as well as on joint external action. In order for the EU to emerge stronger and sustainable from the crisis, the economy needs a boost, which means a comprehensive joint package for economic and social recovery that includes a fund for reconstruction and an appropriate adjustment of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Another goal is to improve Europe’s crisis management capacity. This includes dealing with the issues such as climate change, the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, digital transformation, and redefining relations with the United Kingdom after Brexit, as well as with China. The issue of migration, the Green Deal, along with the Conference on the Future of Europe will dominate the last phase of the Germany’s presidency. Based on the Commission’s proposals, Germany is pushing for a reform of the Common European Asylum System in order to create a fair, operational, efficient and crisis-proof system.

Relations with the Western Balkans and BiH

The Zagreb Summit was held in May this year, as the crown of the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU. All things considered, just holding the Summit in the world’s biggest crisis since the 2008 financial crash is a success. As we wrote in the last blog, it is clear that “this Summit will not have the same significance as the Zagreb Summit in 2000 or the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003”, and that the presidency of the Republic of Croatia has been disrupted, because its energy invested in organization of the summit was outshined by the outbreak of COVID – 19 pandemic.

The program prepared by Germany emphasized that rapprochement with the European Union is in the interest of the Western Balkans, as well as in the strategic interest of the EU and that the EU has a special responsibility to the Western Balkans, and its southern and eastern neighbors. “We want to ensure that the EU remains able to act and work in partnership with others and on the basis of clear rules,” Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to BiH Margret Uebber wrote in her blog. In the context of the borders for the region of the Western Balkans, it is noted that no region in the world is closer to the EU than the six countries of the Western Balkans, and that the EU and the Western Balkan countries are bound by close interpersonal relations. Additionally, HE Ms. Uebber emphasized the importance of the countries of the Western Balkans to be involved in responding to the crisis, highlighting that the EU allocated funds in the amount of EUR 80.5 million for BiH . which isa strong sign of solidarity and connection.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic posed limits to many activities, HE Ms. Ambassador Uebber believes that progress has been made in the EU policy towards the Western Balkans during the Croatian presidency, citing the decision to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, and the 3.3 billion-euro aid package presented by the EU Commission for the Western Balkans in late April. German Ambassador also noted that the migration of young people, in addition to the economic consequences of the pandemic, is a special challenge that the countries of the Western Balkans will face in the coming period.

The program also states that Germany will use the presidency of the EU Council to connect decision-makers and other relevant actors in the Western Balkans, encourage dialogue on demographic development and continue working on creating better prospects for young people. The German government announced earlier that they would support the Western Balkans with an additional 10 million euros, sending a clear signal that “the future of the Western Balkans is in the EU!”

Together for the recovery of the Western Balkans with Europe

From the presidency program, we see the commitment of Germany to work on the economic recovery of the Union. The European Union is based on the values of the common market, economy, security, freedom and tolerance. Germany, as one of the leaders of the Union, is emphasizing a return to these values, due to increased nationalism, border closures and similar issues due to the COVID – 19 pandemic.

The EU has recently been facing major challenges of internal consolidation, so French President Macron announced reforms of the Union and the enlargement impasse even before the pandemic. The presidency of the Council of the EU will be used by Germany to return the Union to the initial path of its development and prosperity. Although the ability of the large bureaucratic apparatus to work at full capacity has been reduced, as there has been a reduction in physical meetings of EU leaders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Germany has set a clear goal – a large number of decisions need to be made jointly in order to overcome the crisis.

The program can be read on the following link.

The Western Balkans and the COVID-19: Effects on good governance, rule of law and civil society

This policy brief underscores outstanding issues that emerged during the COVID-19 crisis with possible long-term consequences on the functioning of democracy and rule of law in the six countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. This paper specifically addresses the impact of the crisis on the functioning of democratic institutions, the judiciary, fundamental rights and freedoms, transparency, civil society, and the media, and continues to assess its impact on the social and political climates in each country of the region. The report identifies country-specific as well as common issues that should be monitored closely going forward.

Download the brief here. (Available only in English)