Challenges of the European Union-Russia partnership in the field of energy

Author: Minja Čulić

Despite often conflicting positions, the European Union and Russia continue to be mutually important strategic partners in almost all economic areas. However, it seems that one economic aspect stands out in comparison to others in terms of this dependence, and that is energy. Although the European Union is showing a tendency to become energy independent, such ideas are still in their infancy, which is why many countries of the “Old Continent” continue to be dependent on Russian gas as one of the leading energy sources, primarily due to reduced use of dirty, fossil fuels. However, they are indeed being forgotten in the European Union. On the other hand, the Russian economy is largely dependent on fuel exports, primarily oil and natural gas, and due to the energy independence of the growing superpowers, India and predominantly China, which have opted to use energy from their coal communities, the European Union continues to be Russia’s most important strategic partner. However, after the Navalny affair, the future of the already agreed “North Stream” was called into question due to anti-Russian protests throughout the European Union. This paper is dedicated to researching the extent to which the European Union depends on Russia in terms of EU energy security and whether there is a potential alternative to the one for Nord Stream?

Keywords: Energy, European Union, Geopolitics, Russia, Security

VPI BH RESEARCH INTERNSHIP paper, Foreign Policy Initiative BH, 2021.

Mentor: Lejla Ramić-Mesihović, PhD

English version PDF*: Challenges of the European Union-Russia partnership in the field of energy

Project – Piloting mechanisms of transparency and integrity of government bodies at the cantonal and local level in BiH

Within the project “Piloting mechanisms of transparency and integrity of government bodies at the cantonal and local level in BiH” a virtual meetings was held with the Mayor of Teslić, Dr. Milan Miličević  and with the Mayor of Ilidža, Nermin Muzur. At the meetings are presented standards of Integrity and Transparency in procedures of employment, allocation of funds to individuals, non-profit organizations and companies through public invitation, public procurement, issuance of permits and consents which is done by the municipal administration, were presented.

The standards were developed in cooperation with the project “Piloting Mechanisms of Transparency and Integrity of Authorities at the Cantonal and Local Level in BiH”, funded by the UK Government through UK Aid and implemented by TAF Western Balkans (VPI BH one of the partners for BiH) and Lucid Linx Sarajevo.

“When citizens have questions, they should be able to get answers to them. Local governments that proactively provide information that is important to citizens, show that the interests of citizens and their well-being are extremely important to them.”

Matt Field, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to BiH

Meeting with the Mayor of Ilidža as part of the project – “Piloting mechanisms of transparency and integrity of government bodies at the cantonal and local level in BiH”

On Friday, March 26, 2020, a virtual meeting was held with the Mayor of Ilidža, Nermin Muzur, at which the Standards of Integrity and Transparency in procedures of employment, allocation of funds to individuals, non-profit organizations and companies through public invitation, public procurement, issuance of permits and consents which is done by the municipal administration, were presented. The standards were developed in cooperation with the project “Piloting Mechanisms of Transparency and Integrity of Authorities at the Cantonal and Local Level in BiH”, funded by the UK Government through UK Aid and implemented by TAF Western Balkans (VPI BH one of the partners for BiH) and Lucid Linx Sarajevo.

FES BiH support to current foreign policy analyzes

For many years, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung BiH (FES) has been supporting the Foreign Policy Initiative BH in drafting, publishing and presenting foreign policy analyzes on the most important topics for BiH and the Western Balkans region. In 2021, in addition to foreign policy analysis, FPI BH together with FES BiH launched the platform “Current Foreign Policy” intended for former and current VPI fellows to create and publish short online articles in various formats (analysis, blog, policy brief, etc. ) on current topics in the field of foreign policy directed towards or led by BiH. The platform is a space for young foreign policy analysts to create their own content, develop their expertise and gain space in public.

Partners: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung BiH (FES) and Foreign Policy Initiative BH (FPI BH)

Contact FPI BH: emina@vpi.ba

Meeting with the Mayor of Teslić as part of the project – “Piloting mechanisms of transparency and integrity of government bodies at the cantonal and local level in BiH”

On Friday, March 19, 2020, a virtual meeting was held with the Mayor of Teslić, Dr. Milan Miličević, at which the Standards of Integrity and Transparency in procedures of employment, allocation of funds to individuals, non-profit organizations and companies through public invitation, public procurement, issuance of permits and consents which is done by the municipal administration, were presented. The standards were developed in cooperation with the project “Piloting Mechanisms of Transparency and Integrity of Authorities at the Cantonal and Local Level in BiH”, funded by the UK Government through UK Aid and implemented by TAF Western Balkans (VPI BH one of the partners for BiH) and Lucid Linx Sarajevo.

Democratic Apostasy in the EU: What Does Party Politics Have to Do with It?

Author: Melisa H.Mehmedović

Against the backdrop of democracy backsliding across the European Union, the goal of this paper is to analyze the role of the Union and its institutions in facilitating or containing the trend of the deterioration of democratic credentials of its members. By shedding light on the cases of the retrogression of democratic institutions in Hungary and Poland and conducting a comparative analysis of the EU institutions’ response to its members’ transgressions, this paper aims to fathom whether the existence of party politics at the supranational level has translated into a discrepancy between the Union’s reactions to the events that have unfolded in the two member states. Furthermore, this paper explores if the absence of decisive action on the part of the EU and it turning a blind eye to certain cases of misdemeanor has paved the way for the realization of authoritarian pretensions at the national level.

Key words: Democratic backsliding; Party politics; Poland; Hungary; European Union

VPI BH RESEARCH INTERNSHIP paper, Foreign Policy Initiative BH, 2021.

Mentor: Lejla Ramić-Mesihović, PhD

English version PDF*: Democratic Apostasy in the EU: What Does Party Politics Have to Do with It?

Citizens First: Second Regional WeBER Conference

25th – 26th of February 2021 – Second Regional Conference Citizens First was held on the 25th and 26th of February. The conference was held in a hybrid format, with speakers from Serbia attending live, while speakers from the region and Europe joined online. The conference was physically attended by a limited number of people from Belgrade, in line with current epidemiological measures.

You can watch the recording of the first day of the conference here, and the recording of the second day can be found here.

Over two days, five panels and six parallel sessions were held, where participants from Serbia, Europe and the region had the opportunity to discuss the progress and challenges facing civil society in monitoring the public administration reform process, the efforts it is making would be more involved in creating a citizen-oriented administration.

The event was organized by European Policy Centre (CEP), in co-operation with five other regional organizations from the Western Balkans within the Think for Europe Network. The conference is part of WeBER2.0, a regional initiative dedicated to empowering civil society and citizens to be more willing to monitor and control the public administration reform process.

Highlights from the conference:

Tamara Srzentic, Minister of Public Administration of Montenegro, said in her introductory address that “when the community comes together to solve problems, anything is possible.” She added that it sometimes happens that policy planning and implementation are not well “connected”. “Implemented policies can be compared to a car that is loosely connected to the wheels – you will not get where you wanted and you will hurt many people on your way,” said Srzentic.

Srzentic said that policies should be made “starting with users”, that is, to have them in the foreground. “The government cannot do it alone – if you are part of the community, which we all are, we can help governments create a society that benefits us all,” Srzentic said.

“A well-functioning administration is one in which processes and institutions are created to meet the needs of society using the resources at their disposal”, said Myriam Ferran, Director for Strategy and Turkey at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).

We want to create a system based on a partnership that works in both directions – for both civil society and the administration. This relationship is sensitive because sometimes there are obstacles and sometimes misconceptions. Therefore, it is important to build trust between civil society and the administration,” she added, emphasizing that it is not easy to build. “Issues of working with the government, administration and improving the functioning of public administration, as well as the very importance of transparency and inclusiveness, is something that EU countries are constantly working on because it should never stop,” Ferran said.

Hata Kujrakovic, a student from Sarajevo, who spoke as a youth representative, said that young people from the entire region were very disappointed with the situation. “Let’s look around – what do we see? We see young, educated people leaving their countries en masse. This is a consequence of the problems we face. Research shows that corruption, unemployment, poor living standards and the lack of any prospects that this will change are the main reasons for moving abroad.” Young people are especially frustrated and discouraged when they see how the public sector is employed through connections. “It is very demoralizing when we see that all the money, effort, the time we have invested in education and personal development, the sacrifices we have made – are simply not enough because we do not have a “connection”.  Because of this feeling of despair, it seems that we have only one thing left – to leave,” she said.

In the first panel, called, “A meeting point between bottom-up and top-down reform impetuses”, discussants were Milena Lazarevic, Programme Director at CEP and WeBER Team Leader, and Gregor Virant, Head of SIGMA (a joint initiative of the OECD and the European Union aimed at supporting the administration reform of countries in the process of joining the EU) and a former Minister of Public Administration of Slovenia. The panel was moderated by Radio Television Serbia (RTS) journalist, Vesna Damjanic.

Milena Lazarevic drew attention to the fact that it seems that the governments in the region are carrying out reforms only “because of Brussels”, and not because of their citizens. “Through many cases, it can be seen that when laws are passed and policies are considered, drafts are sent to Brussels and international actors, but public consultations, which should be at the heart of the process, are often not held,” Lazarevic said.

Lazarevic pointed out that one of the ideas of the WeBER2.0 initiative is to promote “champions from the region”, administrations that work best in the service of citizens, as examples of good practice for others. She added that only when we come out of the crisis period brought by the pandemic, we will see whether the governments have progressed, or retreated, especially when it comes to transparency in decision-making and spending budget funds”, said Lazarevic. Gregor Virant stressed that “expectations of the speed of progress on the road to the EU in the region are high”.

“We must understand that things will not happen overnight: reforms are a long process. We should not overestimate what can be done in two years, but we should not underestimate what can be done in 10 years “, concluded Virant.

Milos Djindjic, the Lead Researcher on the WeBER2.0 project and Programme Manager at the European Policy Centre (CEP) and Julijana Karai, a Researcher at the European Policy Institute (EPI) in Skopje, presented the findings of the research team observing the public administration reform process during the previous year.

“Our findings show that more than 50% of the surveyed citizens believe that solving problems related to public administration has become easier in the past year,” said Djindjic. The results also show that service providers still rarely publish information on their sites. The findings will soon be published online.

After the presentation of the project results, six parallel sessions followed, one for each area of public administration reform, where representatives of civil society and public administration discussed more detailed findings in each area.

On the second day of the conference, moderated by journalist Nenad Sebek, two panels were held: In the first, civil society representatives presented their examples and ideas for improving public administration, and in the second, Western Balkan citizens discussed their expectations from public administration.

The conference also presented a new WeBER2.0 platform where citizens of the Western Balkans can express their experiences with public administration, find advices and experiences of other citizens and express their opinions on various issues related to public administration. You can access the platform here.

In the final panel titled “Do citizens want good administration?”, moderated by Milos Djindjic, participants were Florian Hauser, Team Leader at the Center for Thematic Expertise of Public Administration Reform in DG NEAR, in the European Commission, Annika Uudelepp, Country Manager for Serbia and Regional Manager for EU Enlargement within SIGMA – OECD, and Jan-Hinrik Meyer-Sahling, Professor of Political Science, University of Nottingham (United Kingdom) and WeBER Advisory Council member.

“Citizens are quite comfortable with the ‘status quo’ because they enjoy the so-called ‘clientelism’ and passive attitude: they, therefore, overlook their need for better public policies, even though it is detrimental to them in the long run, but it serves them in the short term,” said Professor Meyer Sahling.

“We need to build a civic culture – learn to be critical thinkers, and assess our environment and our public administration”, agreed Florian Hauser.

Annika Uudelepp said that this is where civil society organisations should enter the scene, as they would serve as a “translator” of the citizens’ needs.

“Institutions and bureaucracies have their jargon, which is often not understandable to citizens, and citizens often do not know how to explain their demands. That is where civil society should enter the scene”, said Uudelepp.

The conference was held with the support of the European Union, and within the project “Protection of Civil Space – Regional Center for Civil Society Development” funded by SIDA and implemented by BCSDN.

Photo credit: Branko Birac (@vrlodobro)

FPI BH: ARE THE CITIZENS FIRST TO THE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION?

A hybrid regional conference “Citizens First” is taking place in Belgrade on Thursday and Friday (February 25 – 26, 2021). The event is organized by the European Policy Center (CEP), in co-operation with five other regional organizations from the Western Balkans within the Think for Europe network, including the Foreign Policy Initiative BH. The conference is a part of WeBER2.0, a regional project dedicated to empowering civil society and citizens to be prepared to monitor and control the process of public administration reform.

Hata Kujrakovic, a student from Sarajevo, had an opportunity to open the conference and send a clear message: “Let’s look around – what do we see? We see young, educated people leaving their countries en masse. This is a consequence of the problems we face. Research shows that corruption, unemployment, poor living standards and the lack of any prospects that this will change are the main reasons for moving abroad.”

She also said that young people are especially frustrated and discouraged when they see how the public sector is employed through connections. “It is very demoralizing when we see that all the money, effort, the time we have invested in education and personal development, the sacrifices we have made – are simply not enough because we do not have a “connection”.  Because of this feeling of despair, it seems that we have only one thing left – to leave,” she said.

Tamara Srzentic, Minister of Public Administration of Montenegro, said in her introductory address that “when the community comes together to solve problems, anything is possible.” She added that it sometimes happens that policy planning and implementation are not well “connected”. “Implemented policies can be compared to a car that is loosely connected to the wheels – you will not get where you wanted and you will hurt many people on your way,” said Srzentic.

Srzentic said that policies should be made “starting with users”, that is, to have them in the foreground. “The government cannot do it alone – if you are part of the community, which we all are, we can help governments create a society that benefits us all,” Srzentic said.

Milena Lazarevic, Program Director of CEP, drew attention to the fact that it seems that the governments in the region are carrying out reforms only “because of Brussels”, and not because of their citizens. “Through many cases, it can be seen that when laws are passed and policies are considered, drafts are sent to Brussels and international actors, but public consultations, which should be at the heart of the process, are often not held,” Lazarevic said.

Lazarevic pointed out that one of the ideas of the WeBER2.0 initiative is to promote “champions from the region”, administrations that work best in the service of citizens, as examples of good practice for others. She added that only when we come out of the crisis period brought by the pandemic, we will see whether the governments have progressed, or retreated, especially when it comes to transparency in decision-making and spending budget funds”, said Lazarevic.

“A well-functioning administration is one in which processes and institutions are created to meet the needs of society using the resources at their disposal”, said Myriam Ferran, Director for Strategy and Turkey at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).

“We want to create a system based on a partnership that works in both directions – for both civil society and the administration. This relationship is sensitive because sometimes there are obstacles and sometimes misconceptions. Therefore, it is important to build trust between civil society and the administration,” she added, emphasizing that it is not easy to build. “Issues of working with the government, administration and improving the functioning of public administration, as well as the very importance of transparency and inclusiveness, is something that EU countries are constantly working on because it should never stop,” Ferran said.

Gregor Virant, Director of SIGMA (joint initiative of OECD and EU whose goal is to support the public administration reform of countries which are in the process of to the EU and former Minister of Public Administration of Slovenia, stressed that “expectations of the speed of progress on the road to the EU in the region are high”.

“We must understand that things will not happen overnight: reforms are a long process. We should not overestimate what can be done in two years, but we should not underestimate what can be done in 10 years “, concluded Virant.

Director of FPI BH, Anida Sabanović, presented the results of WeBER 2.0 research in the field of Policy Development and Coordination, where the practice of civil society dissatisfaction with work planning, transparency and decision-making, as well as the quality of consultations with civil society continued. When it comes to reporting, there is still no focus on performance across the region and it is activity-oriented.

“It is a devastating fact that only 13% of the surveyed representatives of civil society organizations at the regional level agree to some extent that the decision-making procedures by the governments are generally transparent,” said Sabanovic.

The conference is part of the Western Balkan Civil Society Empowerment for a Reformed Public Administration (WeBER 2.0) project, implemented by the Foreign Policy Initiative BH with partners within the Think for Europe Network and in cooperation with the Brussels-based European Policy Center (EPC). For more information about the project, visit: www.par-monitor.org

 

Our new regional platform – MladiRini

This platform was created as a part of a project implemented by a group of think tanks under the Think for Europe Network and their partners from Poland, Italy and Belgium. It is intended to survey the voices of the youth, aged 16 to 25, to propagate them and to stimulate discussion regarding various topics, among which internet freedoms, issues regarding the environment and rule of law will be featured. It was created as a part of the Make Future Together: EU and the Western Balkans from the Youth Perspective project but will serve for the continuous involvement and engagement with the youth.

Also, this platform aims to gather the voices of the youth from 6 Western Balkan countries that are going to participate in the Conference on the Future of Europe. Therefore, the aim of the platform is to understand, include and advocate for the youth and their opinions on the big stage.

What this means is that you can provide us with significant input that we will be able to compile and promote in order to advocate for policies that will better a young person’s position in the Western Balkans.

And here’s us – teams full of advocates, youth enthusiasts and internet geeks who have worked hard to bring us here all together.

Check it out! www.mladirini.org and, whether you are mladi or rini, tell us what you think about yourself and your space in this ever-changing world!

STUDY: THE STRATEGIC ROLE OF EXTERNAL ACTORS IN THE WESTERN BALKANS

Western Balkans, a region which includes the states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo, is of immense geopolitical importance today and is increasingly under the influence of competing great power interests. While the West, i.e. the EU and the USA, endeavors to gradually integrate these countries into the European Union, actors such as Russia, China and Turkey are pursuing their own goals. The purpose of this study is to shed light on the six states of the Western Balkans with regard to the influence by external actors. What was brought to light here is an extremely differentiated picture of the region, with regional peculiarities in history, religion and other factors being decisive for the current orientation of the respective Western Balkan countries.

Authors: Haris Ćutahija, Alba Cela, Azra Karastanović, Zoran Nechev, Ivan Nikolovski, Strahinja Subotić and Demush Shasha

Download the study here. (Available only in English)