OPEN LETTER to the Members of the European Parliament regarding the Draft Resolution on the 2021 Commission Report on North Macedonia

The European Policy Institute together with Civil Rights Defenders and the members of the Think For Europe NetworkTEN sent an open letter to the Members of the European Parliament regarding the Draft Resolution on the 2021 Commission Report on North Macedonia.

We urge them to reconsider parts of the Motion for a resolution that are conditions set by Bulgaria that will have negative implications on the Macedonian identity and will endorse the ultimatum that Bulgaria imposed on North Macedonia, using the EU membership as a tool.

If the bilateral issues imposed by Bulgaria enter the accession process, its essence of being a transformative power for the society and the Europeanization process would not only be jeopardised, but would run contrary to the values of the Union.

These are not the values we have believed in. These are not the values we have fought for at home, consistently advocating for EU-accession related reforms.

Read the full letter here.

Open-Letter-EP-Resolution-MKD-2022

Pursuing integrity-driven and sustainable administrative reforms in the Western Balkans

The Institute for Democracy and Mediation organises the PAR regional meeting in the framework of the Western Balkan Civil Society Empowerment for a Reformed Public Administration – WeBER 2.0 regional project and the Serving Democracy and Citizens through Improved Public Integrity project. The event will be dedicated to the public administration reform (PAR), institutional integrity, accountability and public trust in institutions.  

Following the ameliorated COVID-19 pandemic situation, the regional meeting will be organised as a two-day in person event, holding several activities. Participants will arrive in Tirana on 6 June 2022. The PAR regional conference will take place during 7 – 8 June 2022 and will be held in English, with Albanian simultaneous translation. It will discuss the need for mainstreaming of PAR principles across sectoral policies and best practices of integrity building in the public administration of Albania and the region. On the other hand, the PAR sectoral mainstreaming workshop will focus on the preliminary results of pilot monitoring exercise on mainstreaming principles of public administration, its challenges so far and how to overcome them.

The event aims to foster the dialogue between civil society and institutional stakeholders to design and implement inclusive and transparent policies, as well as contribute to the sustainability of citizen-centred administrative reforms.

This is the first time since the pandemic outbreak, that the WeBER platform members from all the Western Balkans meet in person to discuss public administration reforms monitoring in regional level. Our community gathers various civil society organisations, governments’ representatives, international and regional organisations, as well as distinguished independent experts, who will share with us the latest updates on governance and research on PAR issues in regional level.

The WeBER 2.0 project is implemented by the Think for Europe Network (TEN) and is funded by the European Union and other donors. Serving Democracy and Citizens through Improved Public Integrity project is implemented by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation and is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

Download the Draft Agenda here.

If you wish to follow the Conference online, please contact us at secretariat@thinkforeurope.org. Given the fact that the number of participants is limited, all registrations will be reviewed and confirmed by the WeBER2.0 team members.

ONLINE EVENT: Democracy or ‘stabilitocracy’ in the Western Balkans?

This online public forum is co-organised with the Clingendael.

The EU seeks to foster democratisation through its enlargement policy, in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, also known as the Western Balkans Six. 

Despite years of efforts, the EU’s policies have not brought about the expected change. Instead of experiencing decisive democratic reform, the WB6 show signs – to different degrees – of ‘stabilitocracies’: countries with obvious democratic shortcomings that at the same time claim to work towards democratic reform and to offer stability. 

Join our online forum with law makers, policy makers and researchers from both the EU and the Western Balkans. The topics at stake include how the EU is unintentionally contributing to the formation of ‘stabilitocracies’ and what can be done to avoid it.

We will pose several thesis statements to the speakers. The speakers will debate a thesis during a limited amount of time. You can participate through the poll and by asking your question through the online Q&A.

Programme

Welcome & introduction of the report The EU as a promoter of democracy or ‘stabilitocracy’ in the Western Balkans?

Giulia Cretti, Junior Researcher, the Clingendael Institute

Debate & poll questions

Maja Kocijančič, Member of Cabinet & Communication Advisor to the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, European Commission
Milena Lazarević, Programme Director, European Policy Centre – CEP, Belgrade
Nikola Dimitrov, Former Foreign and Deputy Prime Minister for European Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, ECFR and BIEPAG member
Roelien Kamminga, Member of Parliament VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), The Netherlands
Geert Luteijn, Lecturer Political Science, University of Amsterdam
Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, Member of European Parliament (The Greens/European Free Alliance – EFA)
Wouter Zweers, (moderator) Research Fellow, the Clingendael Institute

Q&A session

Register

Please register here. The event will be held via Zoom. After registering you will receive an email with a personal link to the webinar room.

The EU as a promoter of democracy or ‘stabilitocracy’ in the Western Balkans?

Through its enlargement policy, the EU seeks to foster democratisation in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, also called Western Balkans six (WB6). Despite years of efforts, the EU’s policies have not brought about the expected change.

The enlargement process has lost both efficacy and political momentum. Instead of experiencing decisive democratic reform, the WB6 have slowly developed into ‘stabilitocracies’: countries with obvious democratic shortcomings that at the same time claim to work towards democratic reform and offer stability.

The report, conducted by the Clingendael and the Think for Europe Network, identifies eight flaws in the EU’s strategies, policies and their implementation that are believed to contribute to stabilitocracy formation.

In each of the WB6 countries, concrete cases exemplify how EU influence has unintentionally contributed to stabilitocracy formation and what factors have determined whether the EU approach has been constructive or not. The technical approach is the most prevalent flaw in the case studies. Examples range from the EU’s inability to harmonise the interests of different ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, structural weaknesses in the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), the failure of technical safeguards to counter blurred boundaries between branches of power in Montenegro, an overly technical focus in progress reports on democracy and rule of law reforms in North-Macedonia, and an overly technical fixation in the application of the revised methodology in Serbia.

To avoid the traps of further stabilitocracy entrenchment, we put forward recommendations and critical reflections on how to improve the EU’s role in the region. Recommendations include focusing more on genuine feedback to WB6 governments, better reporting on the state of progress, enhancing communication with citizens, and specifying benchmarks while accompanying them with more tangible timelines.

However, fixing the technical process is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the EU accession process and its democratisation agenda for the Western Balkans. Therefore, the EU and its member states need to seriously consider proposals for a further overhaul of the enlargement process in order to allow for a staged accession trajectory for the WB6. At the same time, the EU could speed up engagement with the WB6 beyond the enlargement framework in order to not lose grip in a region subject to increasing great-power competition. Lastly, it is recommended that the Netherlands takes further action to substantiate its ambitions as a critical but engaged member state.

The-EU-as-a-promoter-of-democracy-or-stabilitocracy_2eproef

Read the full report (HTML) or download the report (PDF).

Save the date for an online forum on Thursday 10 March, 15.30-16.45 hrs. Lawmakers, policymakers and researchers will debate on the EU’s unintentionally contribution to the formation of ‘stabilitocracies’ and the next steps. You can participate through the Q&A and poll questions.

Confirmed speakers are Milena Lazarević (Programme Director, European Policy Centre – Belgrade), Nikola Dimitrov (Former Foreign and Deputy Prime Minister for European Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia) and Geert Luteijn (Lecturer Political Science, University of Amsterdam). The full programme will be announced soon. Please register to save the date!

Discussion about 2021 Enlargement Package with Maciej Popowski

24 November 2021 – Today, the European Policy Centre (CEP), together with other members of Think for Europe Network (TEN) and the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) organised an online discussion about the European Commission’s 2021 Enlargement Package. The event titled: EU Enlargement to the Western Balkans in the Light of the New Methodology gathered acting Director-General, Maciej Popowski, who presented this year’s reports, and CSOs representatives from six Western Balkans countries who discussed and commented on reports for each state. The panel was moderated by Milena Lazarević, CEP’s Programme Director. Panellists discussed how does the Enlargement Package support the building of a stronger Europe, what are the incentives offered to the Western Balkans through this Package, and does the current toolkit possess enough tools to deal with regional’s sensitive, yet complex issues while addressing the Fundamentals.

Mr. Popowski called, in his presentation, this year’s package “the mother of all packages” which comes after the visit of President Commission Ursula von der Leyen to Western Balkans in September and the Brdo Summit in October. He emphasised the necessity to maintain dynamics of the enlargement process despite the odds while underlining recommendations of the Commission to open two new Clusters with Serbia, finally start negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and secure visa liberalisation for Kosovo. Popowski stated that bilateral issues between Bulgaria and North Macedonia cast a big shadow on the enlargement and that there is very little time to find an agreement between the two countries to Bulgaria remove its veto. At the same time, Commission has sent its representatives to Bosnia and Herzegovina to find a way for overcoming institutional stalemate in this country. On the question about scepticism in some member states when it comes to further enlargement of the EU, Popowski pointed out that there has always been scepticism, but that we must avoid further disillusionment among citizens in candidate states. Asked about the model of staged accession, Popowski stated that he is entirely familiar with it, but he compared it with ideas from the 1990s about the EU in concentric circles. Finally, he sees the Open Balkan initiative as a part of a broader concept of regional cooperation and as a stepping stone towards the accession of the WB region to the EU, not as a substitute.

On the other hand, representatives of civil society and members of TEN (Srđan Majstorović, Chairman of Governing Board, European Policy Centre (CEP), Belgrade, Haris Ćutahija, Researcher, Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI BH), Sarajevo, Marko Sošić, Policy Analyst, Institute Alternative (IA), Podgorica, Arbëresha Loxha Stublla, Executive Director and Senior Research Fellow, Group for Legal and Political Studies (GLPS), Pristina, Gjergji Vurmo, Programme Director, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), Tirana, Ardita Abazi Imeri, Programme Coordinator, European Policy Institute (EPI), Skopje) criticised the politically correct wording of the report, stating that it was much softer than in previous years. Critics have been directed towards new enlargement methodology as well, stating that the ticking the box approach was not overcome and that introduced reforms are only structural, rather than substantial. They also called for elephant in the room to be said out loud clearly which is a lack of political will on both sides. Lastly, CSO representatives from six WB countries called the Commission for more evidence-based reports in the future and for transparently providing sources in upcoming reports. They expressed hope for more positive reports next year.


EU enlargement to the Western Balkans in the light of the new methodology: Discussion about 2021 Enlargement Package

ONLINE EVENT


On October 19, the European Commission adopted its 2021 Enlargement Package, offering a comprehensive assessment of the state of play and the progress made by the Western Balkans on their individual paths towards the European Union, with a focus on implementing fundamental reforms, as well as clear guidance on the reform priorities ahead. With the introduction of the new methodology which uses a merit-based approach, the focus of this Package is addressing fundamentals – rule of law, independence of the judiciary, media freedom, and the fight against organised crime and corruption – all while making sure that the EU itself delivers on its commitments.

The Commission acknowledged the region’s frontrunners, Montenegro, and Serbia, by noting that they have made some progress in this area while acknowledging efforts of North Macedonia and Albania have made to fulfil conditions for opening negotiations. Apart from the ongoing Bulgarian veto, the stalled process of normalisation of relations in the region is the other sore point highlighted in the reports.

This draws the following questions: How does the 2021 Enlargement Package support the building of a stronger Europe? What are the incentives offered to the Western Balkans through this Package? Does the current toolkit possess enough tools to deal with regional’s sensitive, yet complex issues while addressing the Fundamentals?


As this issue remains highly relevant everyday life of citizens, all while being very detailed and complex, the aim of the event is to gather relevant experts who could untangle what has been done so far in these areas and what remains to be done to make sure that the 2021 Enlargement Package is implemented effectively and efficiently. To get multi-layered answers to the problem, the panellists from think tanks from the countries of Western Balkan will give their inputs at this event organised jointly by the Think for Europe Network (TEN) and the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).

The 2021 Enlargement Package will be presented by Maciej Popowski, Acting Director-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, followed by 5-minute reactions from:

Srđan Majstorović, Chairman of Governing Board, European Policy Centre (CEP), Belgrade
– Haris Ćutahija, Researcher, Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI BH), Sarajevo
– Marko Sošić, Policy Analyst, Institute Alternative (IA), Podgorica
– Arbëresha Loxha Stublla, Executive Director and Senior Research Fellow, Group for Legal and Political Studies (GLPS), Pristina
– Gjergji Vurmo, Programme Director, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), Tirana
– Ardita Abazi Imeri, Programme Coordinator, European Policy Institute (EPI), Skopje

Moderator: Milena Lazarević, CEP Programme Director

After that, an open discussion with the audience will be held.


The event will take place online, and it will be in English. You can register for the event here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ND11k8yaQw657Z85jwIl-w

Participants will be able to ask questions either by raising a virtual hand, after which they will be turned on with a camera and microphone, or by leaving comments or using the Q&A option, and after reactions, the moderator will read these questions.


European Youth: Addressing digital challenges

This study represents a compilation of eight policy briefs created within the project “Let’s build the future together: the EU and the Western Balkans from the youth perspective”.

Policy briefs are titled:

– Youth in Albania and the Online World: at the Crossroads of Freedom and Safety
– Digital content: Why regulate? A view from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Youth
– Between regulations and freedom of speech: Kosovo’s youth acknowledge the importance of regulations and sanctions in digital space
– Freedom of Expression on Social Media in Montenegro
– Can You Hear Us from the Screen? The Youth from North Macedonian for Safe Internet Space
– Regulating Interned in a Youth-friendly manner a Standpoint from Serbia
– Internet, Freedom of Expression and Democracy in Europe – a Look from Italy
– Internet, Freedom of Expression and Democracy in Europe – the Polish Perspective

For more information, please visit: www.mladirini.org.

Download the study here.

European-Youth

The EU as a promoter of democracy or ‘stabilitocracy’ in the Western Balkans?

Starting from August 2021, the Think for Europe Network (TEN) commenced its work on the research project “the EU as a promoter of democracy or ‘stabilitocracy’ in the Western Balkans?”. This project is implemented in partnership with the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’.

Through its enlargement policies the EU tries to foster democratisation in the Western Balkan region. Now that further reforms in a number of countries only progress slowly or seem even deadlocked, more and more attention is being paid to the negative side-effects of EU policies. The literature on EU enlargement notes that, in spite of their democratic objectives, EU strategies and policies unintentionally contribute to the formation of so-called stabilitocracies in the region: countries with obvious democratic shortcomings that at the same time claim to provide pro-EU stability. 

The research project focuses on the six countries of the Western Balkans. For each country, it assesses how flaws in the EU’s enlargement policies as identified in the literature play out in practice by offering a reflection on the applicability of the theoretical framework for the specific country, underpinned by an assessment of a number of case studies. 

The project will be carried out throughout 2021 and will culminate in a Clingendael report in English with six contributions from TEN partners, one for each country of the Western Balkan Six. 

This project is financed by the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. 


Period: August 2021 – October 2021
Donator: Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence
Project Coordinator: European Policy Centre – CEP, Belgrade
Contact persons: Strahinja Subotić, Programme Manager and Senior Researcher (strahinja.subotic@cep.org.rs)

Overcoming the enlargement impasse – some ideas for the Slovenian presidency

The Slovenian presidency of the EU starting on 1 July has placed the state of the enlargement process for the Western Balkans high on its list of priorities. But the process is dangerously in a state of impasse, leaving the states of the Western Balkans and EU alike disappointed and dissatisfied. Fresh ideas are needed. Therefore the Think for Europe Network (TEN) network of leading think tanks of the Western Balkans joins with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Brussels, to advocate a new dynamic of phased membership in the EU, with ideas for progressive functional and institutional integration based on an objective and quantified monitoring methodology.   

Download the paper here.

The-Enlargement-Impasse-and-the-Necessity-for-its-Transformation

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)