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


The second public perception survey in the Western Balkans


• 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.

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*.

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.

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)

Opening governments in times of lockdown

Lessons learned for citizens-oriented administrations from the COVID-19 crisis in the Western Balkans

The ongoing coronavirus crisis has spurred a myriad of measures from governments in the Western Balkans to better inform their citizens and provide services in emergency circumstances. Yet, responses to the pandemic and the institution of unprecedented lockdown measures have introduced various challenges to already fragile standards of transparency, accountability and rule of law, as well as have exposed shortcomings in the functioning of public administrations, in the Western Balkans.

The crisis is increasingly being used as an excuse to backslide on previously achieved progress. The way emergency measures were adopted and enforced, and how citizens were informed, require close scrutiny, so as to ensure that the practices developed during this crisis do not become the “new normal”.

This policy brief, developed as part of the regional WeBER initiative, examines the approaches of public administrations in the Western Balkans to the COVID-19 crisis. It looks at the quality of communication and implementation of the measures taken by the governments of the Western Balkans to respond to the pandemic. It argues that simple and streamlined communication and transparency in the implementation of such measures are equally, if not more, important in times of emergencies and crises, when citizens are more vulnerable in their relationship with the government than in normal times. Based on an overview of positive and negative practices exhibited in the region, this brief offers a set of recommendations for governments to consider as soon as possible, in order to ensure maximum learning from this experience. There is a two-fold benefit to considering these recommendations. Firstly, they may prove valuable in the event of a second wave of pandemic (as is projected by epidemiologists), which might require the re-imposition of some measures in the coming months. Secondly, certain precautionary measures are likely to remain in place even after lockdowns and restrictions across the region are ended, with the implementation of these recommendations potentially of benefit to citizens in the near future as well.

Download the policy brief here.

Analysis “Energy Geopolitics in the Balkans – Geopolitics and European integration of the Western Balkans”

The Western Balkans remain poorly connected in terms of infrastructure, with an atomized energy market, burdened with political instability, which negatively affects the region’s energy security.

There is a lack of clear and enforceable measures regarding the preparedness of the energy systems of the countries of the region to
respond to potential shocks in case of interruption of gas supply or any other energy shock.

External actors, most notably Russia and China, exploit the clientelist approach of political elites in the region thus opposing the implementation of the goals of the Energy Community in the Western Balkan countries.

You can download the analysis here.

Sead Turčalo, april 2020.