TEN is named as one of the best think tank networks in the world

For the past 14 years, “Global Go To Think Tank Index” published by the University of Pennsylvania, USA, has been ranking world’s think tanks based on various criteria. Think for Europe Network (TEN) a regional network which consists of six research organisations from the Western Balkans reached the list of the world’s best networks of research organisations for the third year in a row!

This year, we are ranked as the 34th best think tank in the world among prestigious networks of think tanks from the United States, Italy, Belgium, Brazil and others. This report demonstrates a recognition of the hard work this network has put in over the past years in the areas of good governance and ensuring the rule of law. 

Since its establishment in 2013, TEN has focused their work on improving fundamental drivers of the development of our societies – good governance and the rule of law. It has brought together six organisations which cooperate in EU-related policy research and ensuring that the reforms brought into the societies are sustainable and substantial for successful EU integration of the region.

Event Announcement: Second Regional “Citizens First” Conference

We are proud to announce that the Second Regional “Citizens First“ Conference will be held on February 25-26, 2021!

Given the current restrictions caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Conference will take the form of a two-day hybrid event, applying the multi-stage concept and including both in-person and virtual elements and attendees. International participants and speakers will be attending the event online, while the speakers from Serbia will be offered a possibility to attend in person, in full accordance with the health and safety measures in place at the time.

Just like two years ago, the cornerstone product of our project presented in the Conference will be the Regional and National PAR Monitors 2019/2020, which will indicate the results of the comparative research on monitoring PAR in all Western Balkan countries. Ultimately, the Conference aims to enhance and broaden the dialogue on creating and implementing inclusive and transparent policies, as well as contribute to the sustainability of administrative reforms to the benefit of the Region’s citizens.

The Conference will gather various civil society organisations, governments’ representatives, international and regional organisations, as well as distinguished independent experts on the matter.

To register, please fill in the following form:

Create your own user feedback survey

Disclaimer: Given the fact that the number of participants is limited, all registrations will be reviewed and either confirmed or denied by the WeBER 2.0 team members.
 

Do new circumstances change routines? Public administration and service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Western Balkans

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak on citizens’ usage of electronic access to administrative services has been limited in the Western Balkans. The Brief analyzes potential reasons for this and reflects on cross-national variations.

The Brief can be downloaded here.

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The Conference on the Future of Europe: Is the EU still serious about the Balkans?

If the EU does not count the Balkan countries among the stakeholders who should participate, in some form, in the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), then one has to wonder whether the Union is still serious about the European perspective of the region.

The EU should allow political leaders and citizens from the Balkan countries to join the activities and discussions held in the context of the CoFoE on a consultative basis, along the representative and citizens’ dimensions of the process, respectively. In doing so, the EU would build on the precedent of the European Convention of the early 2000s.

The EU has nothing to lose and everything to win by deepening and refining its relationship with the Balkan countries, by allowing the region to feel included in its plans for the future of the EU. The Union would use the interdependence with the Balkans to good advantage, strengthening natural alliances with its neighbours and consolidating its political vicinity. Deliberating over joint responses to specific common challenges addressed by the Conference would help the Balkan countries continue to build experience and know-how in preparation for their eventual EU membership. Allowing the Balkans to witness and contribute to this initiative would also foster a sense of togetherness and partnership that has been lacking from the long, drawn-out formal accession process. More, rather than less, EU-Balkans cooperation and coordination will build trust and loyalty.

In the end, even without a formal invitation to accompany the CoFoE process, the Balkan countries should organise themselves at the political and societal levels to follow the Conference and mirror its activities with similar initiatives. The Regional Cooperation Council could help organise and coordinate a network of Balkan politicians tasked by their governments to follow and participate in the Conference. In parallel, civil society networks in the region should build on their already existing cooperation and look for funds to organise ‘Balkan Citizens’ Consultations’, which can accompany the CoFoE process as it unfolds. Such a broad mobilisation would prove the Balkan countries’ strong will to approach the EU and a certain dose of political maturity.

But the Union should know better than to just wait to be impressed by the Balkans. The EU is one CoFoE invitation away from leaping forward into the future, together with its strong partners and closest neighbours, as Commission President von der Leyen referred to the Balkans in her State of the Union address.

This discussion paper is developed in cooperation with the Brussels-based think tank European Policy Centre (EPC), and is thus also published at epc.eu.

Download the Paper here.

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What do citizens tell us about administrative services? The second public perception survey in the Western Balkans

Public perceptions from four out of six countries in the Western Balkans suggest that state administration has become more citizen oriented in the past two years. Citizens throughout the region are increasingly aware of electronic access to administrative services, even though the COVID-19 pandemic has had a limited impact on using this type of access. Interesting country-level variations are noted in different aspects of the survey.

Click to download the survey

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Freedom of expression online: In between regulations and chaos

14 December 2020. – Freedom of expression online should have some limitations and regulations; this was the main takeaway from the today’s public debate: Freedom of expression in the internet: a common challenge for the EU and Kosovo. Organized by Group for Legal and Political Studies (GLPS).

The panel consisted of Eraldin Fazliu, Editor in chief, Prishtina Insight, Erblin Hoxha, civil society activist and Executive Director at Debate Center, Njomza Arifi – Programme Manager at Group for Legal and Political Studies as well as Ema Pula, project coordinator at GLPS, and facilitator of the first local citizen consultation online with the youth, organized under Europe for Citizens project.

Ema Pula presented the conclusions and recommendations from the consultations with youth that GLPS held two weeks ago, and where 17 young people of age 18-24 from all across Kosovo participated in the event.

She presented the main findings of the consultations where her peers defined some of the most positive and negative aspects of the internet. Among positive aspects were the use of the internet as an interactive/communicative space, the internet as a source of information, and lastly the use of the internet for financial benefits. On the other hand, few negative aspects were: the presence of fake news, online bullying, and the violation of privacy. Ema stated that in order to protect the positives and fight against the negatives, enforcement of applicable laws and sanctions should be stricter. Lastly, awareness raising campaigns should be continuous and would boost the level of media literacy.

Furthermore, Eraldin Fazliu, editor in chief in Prishtina Insight appreciated and agreed with the conclusions of the youth. He said that the fake news, misinformation and the lack of regulations of the freedom of expression is contributing to the rise of the hate-speech and polarized, not only among citizens, but also among journalists.  Fazliu, posited the risk of hyper use of social media and how that is affecting the society as a whole.

With almost 90% of all people generations gravitate on the internet, and the information they gather, the virtual groups they belong, often it gives the impression that these people are being served by their simple truths – and that is a big problem.

Another problem according to Fazliu is the selective justice when dealing with the cases of misinformation, fake news, or online threats towards people. While the response was more accurate when politicians were threatened on the internet, the same it cannot be said for regular citizens or journalist. However, standards and regulations to regulate the freedom of speech on the internet and not limit it is the solution that Fazliu sees as feasible.

Erblin Hoxha, who has worked with the youth for many years now, stated that “Research shows that the youth used to take 10-15 seconds to look at a news article, but now they spend 2-3 seconds to read the news, therefore headlines are what attracts them.” This demonstrates that the youth is living in different realities, and being served by the internet algorithms, arguably the perspectives offered in the virtual space it hinders the critical thinking and decent information. Therefore, Hoxha posed a serious question – “What do we do with the media that purposefully creates fake news?” He proposed that the online sphere should be regulated in the same way in which other media spheres are regulated.

Njomza Arifi, from GLPS depicted both sides of the internet and its impact in society.

“Many social media users have recently spread false news, propaganda and to some extent hatred on social media, knowing that there is little or no control over social media in Kosovo. Fake news in Kosovo has often harmed public figures but has also wrongly shaped public opinion. However, hate speech, xenophobia and others have been fueled by the misuse of freedom of expression on the Internet. However, in Kosovo, freedom of expression on the Internet has had a positive impact on civic mobilizations, online petitions, and the organization of protests and increased civic advocacy. There are many cases when online socio-political activism has been translated with result in practice.”

This event is part of the project Make Future Together: EU and the Western Balkans from the Youth Perspective, implemented by a network of think tanks from 6 countries in the region (Think for Europe Network – TEN) together with International Affairs Institute in Rome, Bronislaw Geremek Foundation in Warsaw and European Policy Centre (EPC) in Brussels. The project is funded by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) through the Europe for Citizens program.

What Future for EU Enlargement in Pandemic Times?

11th December 2020 – CEP’s programme director, Milena Lazarevic, participated in the online discussion; “What Future for EU Enlargement in Pandemic Times”? organised by the Aspen Institute. The online discussion was also participated by Florian Bieber, a professor for Southeastern Europe at the University of Graz, Majlinda Bregu, the Secretary-General, Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), Ambassador Susanne Schutz, the Director for South-Eastern Europe and the discussion was moderated by Adelheid Wolfl, South Eastern Europe correspondent for Der Standard, based in Sarajevo.

Excluding the devastating consequences brought on by the pandemic, there are vital political divisions in many countries in Europe and within the European Union (EU). Additionally, we have seen an ambitious German Presidency that was met with a special set of economic, political and social challenges set forth this year.

Assessing the German Presidency thus far, Ambassador Susanne Schutz, emphasised that since the presidency started on the 1st of July, Western Balkans (WB) was high on its agenda, particularly looking at the Council decision for Albania and North Macedonia to commence the negotiations for the EU membership. Thus, there have been positive measures takes regarding the EU Enlargement process in the Western Balkans, even during the pandemic.

Confronted with the possibility of a second wave, the countries in the Western Balkans have suffered a serious economic impact as can be seen by the substantial drop in GDP for many Western Balkan countries. Looking at the economic and political consequences, Genoveva Ruiz Calavera expressed that it has allowed the region and the EU to work together in an unprecedented manner. The EU has introduced the first package of €3.3 billion in April accompanied by the weekly deliveries of health protection equipment and joint procurement initiatives. Calavera also emphasized that due to there being a high possibility of a third wave, the EU has set forth a package on the 6th October, the Economic and Investment Plan (EIP), which is comprised of €9 billion donor grants funding.

Referring to and evaluating the EIP, Milena Lazarevic indicated thatthe plan is unique as it is a single portfolio that is meant for an economic long-term recovery of the region. However, Lazarevic specified that the EIP is part of the the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). Nonetheless, considering that the EIP excludes Turkey, means that the countries in the region will get a much more sizeable monetary support. Furthermore, Lazarevic expressed her doubts on whether the EIP will be enough to close the development gap in the region and the danger it might pose in attracting actors that offer loans at a much more politically convenient rate, which lures the political establishments away from the EU.

Additionally, she drew attention to the necessity of holding political leaders in the region accountable and for it to be done publicly and “not behind closed doors”. Especially this year, the annual EC report mentioned that the government is “[…] breaching its legislation”, which is a serious statement to make. Lastly, in answering the question on the issue of alignment, Lazarevic pointed out that the concern here is not only the influence of Russia, but China as well, which is why Serbia did not follow up on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) statements.

With the endorsement of the Common Regional Market (CRM) at the Sofia Summit, Majlinda Bregu stated that the region needs to take concrete steps and move forward as one common single market, otherwise it will be impossible to have big investors approaching the region. The market reflects the post-pandemic recovery in the Balkans, that will be economically, highly beneficial. The way to succeed in the establishment of the market is on the politicians and the local stakeholders. When it comes to the short-term assistance to the region the attention will be focused on financing the public health services and ensuring the countries in the region can buy the vaccine for COVID-19. Nonetheless, according to Bregu, all the help from the EU will not be enough to close the financing gap left by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until recently, North Macedonia’s path to EU membership seemed optimistic, until Bulgaria’s VETO, which was attributed to the unresolved historical issues between the two countries. Florian Bieber said that Bulgaria’s VETO is evidence of how fragile the accession process, as it gives an example to other member states to abuse their power. If there is no change in the way the accession process is managed from the EU side delivering membership and not being blocked on multiple points, but also changing the whole perception of the EU region, which is no longer seen as merit-based. This also deflects the transformative power of the EU enlargement process. Can the creation of a WB regional market be an alternative to the EU membership? According to Bieber: “Regional cooperation is great, but it is by no means an alternative to the EU membership because all the indications are that it would economically have a nice but not a dramatic impact.”

Furthermore, he highlighted that the enlargement process is a way to fix the issues within the rule of law and democracy and if it becomes a game of waiting for 20 years in the eyes of the citizens, then it will discourage the leaders in the region to engage in serious reforms in rule of law. The issue of the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue is that any permanent settlement between the two countries requires a strong incentive, which is the EU membership. However, even if the two countries agree to full normalisation of relations, it might not stop an EU member state to intervene and halt the accession process.

In conclusion, for the enlargement process to be successful, it is expected of the WB countries to exhibit cooperation, specifically in creating the regional common market- which would make the region more susceptible to much larger EU investments. Arguably, the credibility of the EU enlargement process has suffered, when looking at the case of Bulgaria and North Macedonia. The danger is that even if the membership criteria are met, the possibility of a countries’ accession being blocked is real. Moreover, the politicization between the EU and WB relations can be seen through the EU’s hesitation to publicly rebuke the countries’ democracy and rule of law problems. How will the EU move forward in returning the faith of the accession process to the citizens of the WB countries? Will the creation of the common regional market be successful? These are the questions the EU and WB countries will have to answer in the coming years.

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.

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Social media created the opportunity for free expression, but at the same tame opened a space for spreading hatred and misinformation

3 December 2020 – Social media have exponentially increased opportunities for free expression, but they have also opened up new challenges. They enabled easier communication locally and globally, connected users and enabled them to promote and achieve common goals. On the other hand, social media have opened up space for the spread of hate speech and misinformation. Creating and implementing appropriate policies to address these challenges has become a topic of transnational importance.

These were some of the topics discussed at the event “Freedom of expression on the Internet –  Common Challenge for the EU and North Macedonia” which took place on December 10 through the ZOOM platform and at Europe House, organized by the European Policy Institute – Skopje. With this event, EPI also celebrated the International Human Rights Day.

Watch the video here.

The speakers on the panel discussion were Alexandar Melamed – Delegation of the European Union to North Macedonia, Mladen Chadikovski – Association of Journalists of Macedonia, Meelika Hirmo – SALTO Participation & Information Resource Center from Estonia and Elida Zylbeari –  Metamorphozis Foundation, as well as the students Darko Berovski and Jehona Palloshi. The discussion was moderated by EPIs Project Assistant, Ardita Vejseli.

The students Darko Berovski and Jehona Palloshi presented the negative and positive sides of the Internet, as conclusions from the online discussions with young people aged 18 to 24, which EPI organized and held on December 3, 2020.

Berovski presented the positive aspects of the Internet, such as access to a large amount of information that people did not know before; learning new languages; easier communication with other people around the world, something that would be impossible without the Internet; allowing small businesses to advertise their work and make it easier to get information from important events. Palloshi, on the other hand, presented the negative aspects of the Internet such as Internet addiction and the negative impact on mental health; comparing people with others which negatively affects their self-perception; misuse of personal data in various ways, spreading hate speech, virtual violence and abuse of freedom of expression; spreading political propaganda; reduced restrictions on what is posted online.

Alexandar Melamed from the Delegation of the European Union in North Macedonia pointed out that in all debates in the EU on the measures to be taken to address the problems, there was a debate on how not to violate freedom of expression through the regulation. The EU’s incentive is increasingly focused on promoting self-regulation rather than further legal regulation. He also presented the efforts and activities the EU has undertaken over the years, such as the launch of the EU Internet Forum in 2015 which provides a voluntary framework for the industry to cooperate in deleting terrorist content; signing of the Code of Conduct in 2016 with the 4 largest companies (Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube) used to delete illegal content on the Internet which violates the laws of the EU or member states;  the 2018 European Commission recommendation to help IT companies develop tools to address the challenges of freedom of expression in particular, and the EU Action Plan against disinformation, which includes a platform for a rapid alert system.

“When it comes to freedom of expression, in order to protect it as a human right, we need a comprehensive approach, we need all of us, civil society, the authorities, businesses and the IT industry to raise awareness and do its part to protect this right, as a universal right.

Mladen Chadikovski, from the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, stated that in order to raise the quality of journalism, we should work on mechanisms for self-regulation and thus control fake news on the Internet. In our country, online media are not regulated by a special law, but all their work related to the information narrative they produce is regulated by other laws, such as the Copyright Law and other laws that regulate hate speech. He also presented the database of internet portals, Promedia.mk, which meet certain standards and criteria for the way they report and work. The database is a register of online media with over 130 professional Internet sites.

“If the laws are properly applied, we will have no problem functioning with this additional self-regulation that we are promoting.”

Elida Zylbeari, from the Metamorphosis Foundation, highlighted some of the projects that this organization implements in order to reduce fake news, increase media education and critical thinking of citizens, such as CriThink and Vistinomer and noted that this “war” continues to this day because, according to her, fake news and hate speech are a threat to human rights.  Especially in times of crisis such as the coronavirus crisis, fake news that have no credible sources and are written by dubious authors who do not follow the journalistic code of ethics are dangerous to society. She also explained the methodology used to verify announcements and news. The so-called fact-checkers examine in detail from the logic of the text, the author, whether and which sources are used to the images used.

“Journalists should adhere to the principles of journalism because without those principles one cannot be a good journalist. We need to verify the facts, and emphasize the bad work of the institutions, because our weapon as journalists, but also of the citizens, is to be vocal about our rights.”

Mеelika Hirmo, from the SALTO Participation & Information Resource Center in Estonia, said that non-formal education and activism were paralleled by freedom of the media, freedom of expression and education. The key is balance and a combination of tools – understanding the reality and situation of the country because if a measure, law or regulation worked in one country, this does not mean that it will work in another country without knowing the problem and the appropriate answer. In the European context, formal and non-formal education has been shown to play a major role, but attention should also be paid to educators and teachers themselves, not just citizens and young people. Educators and teachers need to be educated to what the new issues are, what the new platforms are, and they need to know the issues well enough to contribute appropriately to greater media literacy.

“The main question is how to regulate, what to regulate and why to regulate. Because when we want to promote content that is verified, unbiased and confirmed,  Facebook rejects this content, but at the same time you can see false information still spreading around. It is a challenge when countries or social media tehmselves start to “ban” content that is balanced and does not promote hate speech. They just use key words, automatized it and this can create more problems than it solves them”

The panelists also referred to freedom of expression as a human right. It was emphasized that media and information literacy are important in a democratic society, they do not only include knowledge, but also active participation, creating content that will make an important change in society, and young people play a key role here through those skills, the realization of their right and their active participation in civil society can contribute to the development of democracy. Furthermore, more attention should be paid to the extent that states and governments regulate this area so that no further and unnecessarily restrictions can be made to free speech, especially for journalists.

The event was organized as part of the project “Make Future Together: EU and Western Balkans from  Youth Perspective”, conducted by 6 think tanks from the Western Balkans (Think for Europe Network – TEN), together with the Institute for International Affairs from Italy, The Bronislaw Geremek Foundation from Poland and the European Policy Centre (EPC) from Belgium. The project is funded by the European Commission, through the Europe for Citizens program.

Restrictions on freedom of expression on the Internet: censorship or necessity

18 November 2020 – Freedom of expression on the Internet must have some limits, as does freedom of speech, said participants in today’s online panel Freedom of expression on the Internet: A common challenge for Serbia and the EU, organised by European Policy Centre (CEP).

The panel consisted of Paul-Henri Presset, Head of Information, Communication and Media at the EU Delegation to Serbia, Paul Butcher, a political analyst at the European Policy Centre (EPC) in Brussels, Viktor Marković, one of the editors of the njuz.net, Nevena Krivokapić Martinović, lawyer and coordinator for freedom of expression and online media at the SHARE Foundation,  as well as a youth representative Irina Radosavljević. The discussion was moderated by the programme manager and senior researcher at CEP, Sena Marić.

Irina Radosavljević conveyed the conclusions from the consultations with youth that CEP held the day before this event, and where it gathered 20 young people aged 16 to 24 from all over Serbia.

Most young people, she said, believe that the best solution for regulating speech on the Internet would be the formation of a new independent body specialised for regulating the problematic content on social media platforms such as hate speech and fake news and that REM (Regulatory authority for electronic media in Serbia) should be included in the work of that body. But also, parents need to be informed as much as possible on this topic, she believes.

Establishing a legal framework is something that the SHARE Foundation is also committed to. “And people should definitely be more informed about these topics, especially parents – most parents are not even aware of what is happening on social networks. Media literacy is something that should be mandatory in schools, so through that, both parents and teachers will be more aware of potential problems,” said Krivokapić Martinović. She also mentioned that the owners of large platforms are among the richest people in the world, as well as that they have enormous power to influence world events. “One of the good ways in which EU regulations have helped ordinary citizens protect themselves is the GDPR,” said Krivokapić Martinović. She added that SHARE is in favour of passing a new Law on Public Information and Media, which would recognise and thus regulate social media platforms, although they are not “media” in the traditional sense of the word.

Viktor Marković, an editor of the website which deliberately makes “fake news” and reacts to real events with satire, noted that older people are most often “victims” of fake news and that it is necessary to talk more about the problem. “I think that education is the most important thing here. Regulation by the state or an international organisation is not the solution, I think things would get worse then. The problem is that people who have no experience are ready to believe in everything, and it is necessary to educate them to check the source before they believe in something and share it further. We, for example, do not believe in any news at first glance and we always check the sources well, because several times we have reacted with satirical fake news to the news that was actually – fake,” he said.

The way people communicate on the Internet is a relatively new way of communicating and we are still not aware of all the negative sides, Presset believes.

“The European Union is working to identify problems and reduce negative practices seen online – fake news, breaches of privacy, cyberbullying…,” he said.

He also mentioned that none of these things are new – only the environment in which it takes place has changed, that is, it is no longer live.

“Article 10 of the European Declaration of Human Rights talks about restrictions on freedoms, when, for example, security is at stake. Freedom of speech, therefore, has been restricted for a long time, in a way – now we are only trying to apply that in another environment. The EU has a responsibility not to control the internet, but to protect human rights.”

Paul Butcher said that we must not forget that social media platforms have many advantages and that there is a reason why we spend so much time on them. “The question is how to establish borders – what is just humour, as in the example of njuz.net in Serbia, and what is false guidance of people.” He noted that, despite the fact that the EU encouraged the platforms to be more responsible, it did not give enough results.

“So, it is necessary to regulate the Internet with a framework in which there will be clear guidelines on what we can and cannot do. Platforms would be required to sign that document,” Butcher suggests.

“The Western Balkans and Serbia are in an even more vulnerable position than the EU, because media literacy is lower than in other parts of Europe, and the political situation is such that, unfortunately, it affects the flourishing phenomenon of fake news and the spread of misinformation, “Bucher said.

“Unfortunately, no one is immune to this phenomenon – and now, during the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen how fake news can also endanger public health, and not just affect political attitudes,” he said.

Watch the video from the event here.

This event is part of the project Make Future Together: EU and the Western Balkans from the Youth Perspective, implemented by a network of think tanks from 6 countries in the region (Think for Europe Network – TEN) together with International Affairs Institute in Rome, Bronislaw Geremek Foundation in Warsaw and European Policy Centre (EPC) in Brussels. The project is funded by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) through the Europe for Citizens program.