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)
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.
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.
The (foreign) political alignment with EU positions in international affairs is not only an obligation entailed by the EU accession process, but it essentially tests the political and practical commitment of The Western Balkan countries to deal with the wider international context. When it comes to EU CFSP compliance, the percentage of Western Balkan countries’ compliance with the High Representative’s declarations and EU Council decisions varies, and comparative analysis shows that the level of compliance does not quite match the status of states in the EU accession process.
You can download the analysis here.
Nedzma Dzananovic, april 2020.
Bosnia and Herzegovina must fundamentally improve its legislative and institutional framework to ensure adherence to 14 priorities in the Commission’s Opinion. It should be the only political agenda for all political parties in BiH in the coming decade. The EU continues to have a strategic interest in the Western Balkans, but it is not a priority; rather, the EU’s priority is to work on its own ‘fitness’, and to give the Western Balkans time to do their homework. Therefore, this new dynamic will only be seen within the EU. BiH can only hope that its political elites will finally move forward.
The aim of this analysis is to provide an overview of the potential changes in the internal and external dynamics of EU politics and policy concerning enlargement towards the Western Balkans, particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina. It will examine the messages sent by the EU, in this context, prior to and following the formation of new EU institutions. Since European integration is a two-way process, this analysis will also try to show the current state of affairs in Bosnia and Herzegovina as it pertains to the requirements and expectations of the EU’s Stabilisation and Association process.
Political analysis is available here.
The PAR Monitor is the result of research undertaken over the past year by the Think for Europe Network, with the goal of providing a systematic civil society monitoring of public administration reforms (PAR) in the Western Balkans. This exercise was motivated by the need to strengthen domestic, bottom-up pressure from the civil society sector in the long run, in
order to ensure that post-EU accession, when the leverage of the EU’s conditionality in the governance area weakens, the reform drive endures. Based on a robust methodological approach, combining quantitative and qualitative techniques, and building on the EU’s Principles of public administration, the PAR Monitor measures the countries’ state of play in PAR, benchmarks them against each other, and provides recommendations for improvement. The PAR Monitor also ensures complementarity with the monitoring carried out by SIGMA/OECD and the European Commission. It therefore provides a citizen and civil society focused perspective on the EU-SIGMA principles.
The PAR Monitor comprises an overall comparative regional report and six country reports, each including findings on the 23 compound indicators designed by the WeBER project team to monitor a selection of 21 EU-SIGMA principles.
Western Balkan PAR Monitor available here.
Public administration reform (PAR) is today considered a fundamental requirement for the EU aspirants on their accession path. As a complex and all-encompassing reform, PAR in the Western Balkans region is being thoroughly assessed through the lenses of the SIGMA Principles of
Public Administration, developed by the OECD/SIGMA and endorsed by the EU. These Principles define what makes a well-functioning administration in terms of its ability to deliver transparent, efficient and effective services to citizens, and to support socio-economic development.
In the context of a high external pressure for tangible developments in PAR, home-grown demand for better administration becomes even more important, to keep pressuring the government to pursue reforms once the external conditionality dissipates as the result of a completed accession process. Civil society actors, with local knowledge of administration’s
functioning, can lead such domestic advocacy efforts aimed at better administration. Independent PAR monitoring and evidence-based dialogues with the government represent a good approach to achieve this goal.
Based on such a rationale, the WeBER project has completed its first monitoring cycle. Its structured and evidence-based approach to PAR monitoring brings the reform closer to the public, by particularly focusing on PAR aspects with most relevance to the civil society and the public.
WeBER PAR monitoring strongly relies on strengths, skills, and local knowledge of the civil society in the Western Balkans. It builds on the SIGMA’s Principles of Public Administration as a cornerstone of PAR, while assessing them from the standpoint of an independently produced
PAR Monitor methodology. Overall, the methodology is based on the selection of 21 SIGMA Principles within six key areas, monitored and reported through 23 compound indicators that focus on different aspects of PAR.
Report available here.
Societies which are seen as democratic societies are generally envisioned as an environment in which the government operates for the benefit of its citizens and works together with the citizens. One of the values of a democratic order of a country is the transparency of work of its administrative structures, as well as full respect of the inalienable rights of its citizens. Proactive transparency and free access to information are the
basic methods of communication between a state and its citizens.
When speaking about Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a country which is, at least declaratively, a democratic state, it is still very far from the ideal when it comes to these two aspects of democracy. Its lack of openness
partly stems from its historic background from the time of communism, when it was not customary to ask the government to justify its actions or working methods. However, now, for this state which is striving towards
EU and Euro-Atlantic integration and membership, it is necessary to change this paradigm of communication between this state and its citizens. In order to build the citizen’s trust in the administration, the administration needs to be transparent, its work needs to be visible and understandable to the citizens, because in that way the possibility of corruption and abuse of power is reduced, and the citizens are enabled to take active participation in decision making processes. However, it is still too early to speak of the existence of a consistent proactive transparency in BiH.
According to the research of the WeBER project, perception of the civil society pertaining to the quality of legislation and the practice of access to information of public importance is low for all Western Balkan
countries, but BiH and Montenegro are at the very bottom. The results of this research for BiH show that less than 30% of the CSOs agree that the public administration authorities record enough information within their
work in order to provide the public with free access to information of public importance. Furthermore, only 20% of the surveyed CSOs consider the exceptions to the presumption of public character of information to
be adequately defined in the legislation and adequately applied in practice. However, some positive views are held towards practical aspects of requesting information: information is provided in requested format, within deadlines, and free of charge. Furthermore, the research has also shown that the information provision on the websites of the institutions lacks a citizen-friendly approach. Publicly available information is only partially complete and updated, and accessible within maximum three clicks from homepages of the institutions.
For more information, read our policy brief here.
Are tasks characteristic for civil service performed outside merit-based based regime? How open, transparent and fair is the recruitment into the civil service? How effective is the protection of senior civil servants’ position from unwanted political interference? Find out in this WeBER infographic.
Download the infographic here.
More about WeBER Project here.
Western Balkan PAR Monitor 2017/2018 here.
BiH National PAR Monitor 2017/2018 available here. (English). Report in local language here