The second day of “Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen?”

12 November 2020 – The two-day activity of the Foreign Policy Initiative BH Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen? as a part of the project Make Future Together: The EU and the Western Balkans from Youth Perspective, which consisted of yesterday’s focus group with young people from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina and today’s panel discussion that included experts and youth representatives from yesterday’s event with the goal to raise awareness of the Internet and the socio-political engagement of young people towards a wider audience, and to provide concrete solutions.

Over the last few years, the scope and use of digital tools such as social media has expanded significantly in many areas of our daily lives. One of them is the political sphere, where citizens get involved in discussions and debates and gather information about political events. The aim of the event is to explore the practices and attitude of young people on this issue, in order to determine how social media can be used as a tool to strengthen democracy. Topics discussed were internet freedom, misinformation and fake news.

Today, representatives of young people who discussed at yesterday’s event, had the opportunity to present their views, opinions and conclusions about social networks and the Internet in general, as a means for their daily activities. By talking to people who work directly in this field, such as Irhana Čajdin from Group 9 and Emir Zulejhić from the Raskrinkavanje.ba portal, they came to new insights into practices concerning young people online. Of course, on behalf of the Delegation of the European Union in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vladimir Pandurevic, Head of the Civil Society Program, EIDHR, also addressed us, emphasizing that active cooperation with young people is what makes such projects successful.

Some of the conclusions from yesterday’s discussion include “two sides of the same coin” (that is, the Internet), where young people singled out the following: positive sides include information gathering, online social activism and connecting with family and friends, whereas fake news, bad influence on the mental state of users, and hate speech depict the negative sides. In addition, young people dedicated their discussions to proposing possible solutions, highlighting the reporting of negative content, continuous education of young people, and indicating the use of beauty filters in published photos.

Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen? is a part of the project Make Future Together: The EU and the Western Balkans from Youth Perspective which is implemented by the Foreign Policy Initiative BH in cooperation with other members of the regional Think For Europe Network (TEN), the Institute for International Relations in Rome, the Bronislaw Geremek Foundation Center in Warsaw and the Centre for European Policy in Brussels. The project is funded by the European Union as a part of their Europe for Citizens program.

The first day is over – Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen?

11 November 2020 – Today, our member from Sarajevo, the Foreign Policy Initiative BH (VPI BH) held a virtual roundtable discussion with a group of young people from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a part of the event: Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen?

Together with this young group of participants, we explored their practices and attitudes related to citizen involvement in discussions and debates, as well as information gathering on political developments on the Internet. In this way, we have identified ways in which social media can be used as a tool to strengthen democracies. In general, the main focus was on the topics of internet freedom, misinformation and fake news.

On the second day, young people will present their ideas and perceptions to the public, and together with experts in the field of media literacy, as well as those who work together with young people, further discuss these topics.

Youth Online: Can you hear me from the screen? Is a part of the project Make Future Together: EU and the Western Balkans from the Youth Perspective, implemented by the Foreign Policy Initiative in cooperation with other members of the regional Think For Europe Network (TEN), the Institute for International Relations in Rome, the Bronislaw Geremek Foundation Center in Warsaw and the Centre for European Policy in Brussels. The project is funded by the European Union as a part of their Europe for Citizens programme.

European Commission: Montenegro Remained Average

As in the previous five years, based on the methodology of the European Commission, IA transformed the report’ assessments into numbers in order to see scores in a simpler way, and compare the situation with previous years. Although this is the first report of the new commissioner Várhelyi and his team, it does not differ significantly from the previous one.

Assessments given by Commission are: “backsliding” (1), “no progress” (2), “some/limited progress” (3), “good progress” (4) and “very good progress’’ (5). We assigned them numbers from 1-5 and got the grades that we will compare in the coming days with the grades that our neighbor-countries got, and make a regional cross-section.

New report from the European Commission (EC) shows that Montenegro continued to have moderate results in the European integration process. This year, as well as last year, we did not receive any excellent grade, but we did not receive any “backsliding” grade, which means there were no 5s and no 1s. The lack of ”fives” also explains the slowness in closing the chapters.

The average assessment for Montenegro is 3,18 – which is slightly better than last year when the total score for all chapters was 3,09. However, this grade Montenegro also had in 2016, so that after four years it has only returned to the previous level. The 3,18 score is maximum that Montenegro has ever reached since the introduction of this scoring system.

The better assessment compared to the one from last year implies from the fact that seven chapters received a very good grade this year, although, twenty-five chapters remained at the middle level, ie. 75% of chapters have a triple.

Worst of all rated chapters is Chapter 14 ,,Transport policy’’. This chapter received a lower grade than last year and it is also the only chapter of 33 that received assessment of two.

When it comes to chapters related to the rule of law, Chapter 23 is noticeably in worse position than Chapter 24. Namely, although both chapters received an average assessment three, metaphorically speaking, Chapter 23 has a weak three, and Chapter 24 a strong three score. This implies from the three sub criteria assessed in these chapters, so Chapter 23 has two assessment of “limited progress’’ and one of “no progress’’, while Chapter 24 has three ratings of “some progress’’.

Out of 25 chapters that received score three, 8 received a “weak” three and 17 a “strong” three score.

Good progress with the assessment ”four” has been noted in the following seven chapters: chapter 6 ,,Company law’’, chapter 9 ,, Financial services’’, chapter 11 ,,Agriculture and rural development’’, chapter 12 ,,Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy’’, chapter 16 ,,Taxation’’, chapter 19 ,, Social Policy and employment’’ and chapter 25 ,,Science and Research’’.

This confirmed IA’s opinion on the worrying stagnation, especially bearing in mind that we have entered the ninth year of accession negotiations with the EU. Same problems are being rewritten from year to year, without major progress. The report is very comprehensive and in addition to a precise description of the situation, a qualitative analysis of the problem, it contains clear guidelines and recommendations that the new government should adhere to very strictly, if we want the next report to be better.

 

EVENT: Common Regional Market for the Western Balkans – a road to a genuinely integrated region

📅 Wednesday, 4 November 2020

⏲️ 10.00 – 11.30

Deeper economic integration of the region seems indispensable for the Western Balkans to recover from the COVID-19 crises, become more competitive on the global market and attract foreign investments. Some estimates say that regional economic integration in the Western Balkans could generate up to 2.5% of GDP growth should the level of integration reach the level of EFTA, and even 6.7% of GDP growth, if it reaches the EU level of integration. Building on the successes of the Regional Economic Area, the Common Regional Market aims to connect the Western Balkans’ economies through free movement of people, goods, services and capital; create regional digital, industrial, investment and innovation space, and green agenda. As such, it would further align the region with the EU’s single market rules and instigate the region’s authorities to engage in comprehensive regional cooperation.

In light of the expected endorsement of the Common Regional Market by the leaders of the EU and the Western Balkans at the November 10th Summit in Sofia, this panel discission aims to bring together the experts from the Regional Cooperation Council with the region’s civil society in an open discussion about the way forward towards the Common Regional Market.

To take part in these consultations, please register here. Only registered participants will receive a link for the event!

AGENDA:

AGENDA:

10.00-10.05 Welcome note – Dr. Simonida Kacarska, Director, European Policy Institute, Skopje (EPI)

10.05-10.20 Introduction on the Common Regional Market: Majlinda Bregu, Secretary-General, Regional Cooperation Council (RCC)10.20-

10.35 Initial reactions by representatives of the Think for Europe Network: Njomza Arifi, Group for Legal and Political Studies, Pristina (GLPS), Ranka Miljenovic, CEP, Anida Sabanovic, Foreign Policy Initiative, Sarajevo (FPI BH)10.35-11.30 Open moderated discussion with civil society representatives from the Region. Responses will be provided by RCC experts, including Maja Handjiska-Trendafilova, Pranvera Kastrati, Bojana Zoric, and others.

Moderator: Dr. Simonida Kacarska, EPI 

Albania’s progress on EU conditions is telling of the government’s European ambitions

The European Commission’s 2020 Report on Albania continues to echo concerns on the overall scope of democratic deficit and polarized political environment; those same concerns shared by the European Council in March this year and part of the 15 criteria that Albania needs to fulfil in order to start EU accession talks. 

Albania submitted its formal application for EU Membership in April 2009. Nevertheless, the prospect of starting negotiations talks hit a 6-year plateau, as persistent lack of political consensus, continuous calls for “free and fair” elections, as well the Commission’s vocal concerns over “selective justice and corruption” were jeopardising its progress. 

Ultimately, the Member States and European Union are vindicated from potential delays as the criteria have been unanimously defined. The Albanian government will have none to blame but its own lack of results, should the first intergovernmental conference be postponed after the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The necessity for democratic consolidation

Albania continues to show insufficient progress in fulfilling the recommendations given by the monitoring mission OSCE/ODIHR on ensuring free and fair elections, with the integrity of the electoral process, eliminating the longstanding problem of misuse of administrative resources and voter pressure being at the top of the agenda.

Unfortunately, the 2019 Local Elections were again accompanied with hostility, as the opposition refused to participate, accusing the governing party of lack of electoral transparency and voter buying. In the midst of political chaos, the Albanian citizens, who once more did not have the opportunity to experience a “free” election by not having much of a choice in the voting candidate, boycotted the election through a substantial number of blank votes and an overall low voter turnout of just 21.6%. This election, much to the fate of the 2015 elections, was followed by reoccurring protests organised by the opposition party, oftentimes violent and directed to the state institutions that ignited the political turmoil and unrest in the country.

The same polarised climate held Albania back in the advancing of the Electoral Reform, which aimed to reduce the encountered “technical” issues such as voter registration, counting of votes, and electoral administration for quite some time. After considerate lack of communication and cooperation between the main parties, with the opposition oftentimes boycotting the agreements the reform passed on June 5th 2020. Although a step in the right direction, the reform was yet unable to meet the majority of the requirements made by OSCE/ODIHR.

Corruption in the judicial branch

While the Albanian parliament has passed several reforms and implemented laws that aimed to eradicate corruption in the state apparatus and administration, the country has dropped 23 places in 3 years in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. With a score of 35 out of 100 points, Albania is one of the most corrupted countries in the region, whose average ranks at a total of 66 points. This casts serious doubts on whether the policy implementations have yielded any concrete effects on the progress on the country’s struggles with a conflict of interest, abuse of state resources and insufficient disclosure. Particularly, as these are also witnessed through the Judicial Reform, whose slow-paced progress of the vetting of judges and prosecutors is a credit to the complex nature of each individual case related to the aforementioned issues. As a result of the large number of vacancies, the country’s judicial branch has been left crippled, with the High Court only regaining its quorum as of late and the Constitutional Court still missing five members in order to restart operating.

With a one-party led parliament and a frozen judicial branch, the risk of power abuse grows worryingly, as the rule of law is left defenceless and the country’s democratic legitimacy is at stake.

Ensuring a depoliticised media environment

The Venice Commission continues to voice its concern over the hostile media climate of Albania, which is gravely affected by the intertwinement of personal interests and political affiliations, resulting in self- censorship. The current Media Law, also referred to as the “anti-defamation” package, will deteriorate the situation further by undermining the freedom and authority of the press. The law, which passed in the Albanian parliament at the end of 2019 but was returned by the President for the same reasons mentioned by the Venice Commission, is said to tackle and reduce fake news and defamatory content, by creating a state administrative body that can judge the news content and fine online platforms. In doing so, it puts the media under the control of the Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA), whose members are appointed by the government, whilst the pressure and execution of exorbitant monetary fines can easily lead to the insolvency of online media outlets.

Foreign organisations such as the OSCE Presence, the European Federation of Journalists and many others have raised their concerns over the law package, which the government is still trying to pass in the parliament, causing Albania to drop two places on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. These policies come after a long history of verbal attacks towards critical journalists, by politicians both in power and in opposition, in a country that is still struggling to establish editorial independence. The amendments are currently under the revision of the expertise of the Venice Commission and will be re-discussed later this year.

The way forward

As Albania enters the 11th year in its journey to EU Membership, it has become clear that the only way for the country to progress is by solving its internal disputes. With a newly reformed European integration process, Brussel’s request for insurance of a consolidated democracy from its candidate states has become even more evident. The country’s deeply polarised political climate and continuous lack of cooperation between the two main parties not only delays policy implementations but it also hinders political stability and reforms. One the other hand, the media, being the main actors in the “anti-defamation” law package, have been excluded from the dialogue and are currently under the threat of imposed censorship and state control as opposed to the possibility of self- regulation. Yet Albania’s most pressing matter continues to be the necessity of the reinstitution of the power balances, through the immediate filling of the vacancies in the Constitutional Court as well as progressing with the implementation of the Judicial reform and fight against corruption, as has done in the past three years.

The timing of the start for accession talks can now only be determined by the government’s willingness to foster open dialogue and work towards ensuring a more stabilised political environment.

By Fiona Papajani, Institute for Democracy and Mediation – IDM Tirana Autumn Intern 2020

EC 2020 Report for North Macedonia: Case for launching negotiations strengthened

Analysis of the European Commission Report on the Republic of North Macedonia from 6 October 2020.

This report is the first one following the political decision of the EU for the start of negotiations with our country from May 2020.

The findings on North Macedonia in these documents are particularly important in order to maintain and strengthen the case for actual start of negotiations with the holding of the first inter-governmental conference by the end of this year – according to the plan of the German Presidency.

In this analysis, the European Policy Institute – EPI Skopje focus on the key aspects of the Enlargement Strategy which are related to North Macedonia as well as on the specific report for our country.

EC2020REPORT_CASE-FOR-LAUNCHING-NEGOTIATIONS-STRENGTHENED

Q&A on the Call for Proposals

Local Civil Society PAR Enabling Small Grant Facility

The Local Civil Society PAR Enabling Small Grant Facility (SGF) of the WeBER 2.0 Project will be implemented in the period January 2021 – January 2022. A total sum of 225.000 EUR will be allocated to support up to 30 grants. The answers to all questions raised by the potential applicants are published below. The integral Q&A list is available in English as well as in local languages.

ENGLISH

SERBIAN

BOSNIAN

MONTENEGRIN

MACEDONIAN

ALBANIAN

A better economic situation without the rule of law is not possible

October 13th, 2020 – An Economic and Investment plan for the Western Balkans, with which the EU has dedicated up to 9 billion euros for “the Western Balkans long-term economic recovery and regional economic integration”. This is the amount that the EU, or European Parliament, should approve under the next EU budget from 2021 to 2027.

The plan identifies key areas for projects and investments in the Western Balkans. These include the creation of sustainable transport and energy networks, environmental and digital renewal, strengthening the competitiveness of the private sector, support for health, education and social protection. Although there are no conditions for receiving this assistance in the plan itself, it is clear that these funds should be used by the Western Balkan countries to meet the criteria for EU accession – to improve the rule of law, public administration, democratic institutions and judiciary, economic reforms and so on, which is clearly determined by the EU Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans. This is the conclusion of today’s event organised by the Dutch institute Clingendael with the Think for Europe Network (TEN).

Allan Jones from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, one of the speakers at the panel, said that the EU adopted the plan because it recognised the need to support and accelerate “economic convergence”, approaching the economic standard of the EU and the Western Balkans.

“The EU wants to increase competitiveness, support the green and digital economy, unleash the economic potential of the region, increase the scope of economic cooperation among the countries of the region and encourage reforms,” he said. “However, the rule of law is a necessary condition, and if there is a setback, stagnation or insufficient progress, we will have to find ways to solve this problem,” he said.

“The region has made great progress when it comes to post-conflict transition, but we need to work on both political and economic criteria. The Western Balkans are still far from being able to withstand the pressure of the EU market economy,” Jones said.

European Policy Centre – CEP Programme Director, Milena Lazarević, said that the guarantee fund, which will be provided by the Economic and Investment Plan, has additional value, especially bearing in mind that economic aid has often come from parts of the world that are “not the most democratic”, with often disguised conditions.

“This plan shows the ‘human face’ of the accession process and aims to make the benefits of EU accession more tangible to the people,” said Simonida Kacarska from Macedonia’s European Policy Institute (EPI). “The EU’s desire is to work on building future EU member states, and this is shown by this plan,” she explained. 

Gjergi Vurmo from the Tirana-based think tank, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) says that many civil society organisations and other stakeholders have “urged” for the plan like this, given the growing pressure from the presence of other actors and countries in the region, such as China and Russia.

Wouter Zweers from Clingendael Institute told that the Economist estimated the difference between the average income in the EU and the Western Balkans was 15 times larger in 2017 than in 1989, and that some scenarios predict that the Western Balkans will need “200 years to move closer to the EU in economic terms. “The question is whether this plan will be enough to achieve economic convergence, ” he added.

Watch full discussion here.

A better economic situation without the rule of law is not possible

October 13th, 2020 – An Economic and Investment plan for the Western Balkans, with which the EU has dedicated up to 9 billion euros for “the Western Balkans long-term economic recovery and regional economic integration”. This is the amount that the EU, or European Parliament, should approve under the next EU budget from 2021 to 2027.

The plan identifies key areas for projects and investments in the Western Balkans. These include the creation of sustainable transport and energy networks, environmental and digital renewal, strengthening the competitiveness of the private sector, support for health, education and social protection. Although there are no conditions for receiving this assistance in the plan itself, it is clear that these funds should be used by the Western Balkan countries to meet the criteria for EU accession – to improve the rule of law, public administration, democratic institutions and judiciary, economic reforms and so on, which is clearly determined by the EU Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans. This is the conclusion of today’s event organised by the Dutch institute Clingendael with the Think for Europe Network (TEN).

Allan Jones from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, one of the speakers at the panel, said that the EU adopted the plan because it recognised the need to support and accelerate “economic convergence”, approaching the economic standard of the EU and the Western Balkans.

“The EU wants to increase competitiveness, support the green and digital economy, unleash the economic potential of the region, increase the scope of economic cooperation among the countries of the region and encourage reforms,” he said. “However, the rule of law is a necessary condition, and if there is a setback, stagnation or insufficient progress, we will have to find ways to solve this problem,” he said.

“The region has made great progress when it comes to post-conflict transition, but we need to work on both political and economic criteria. The Western Balkans are still far from being able to withstand the pressure of the EU market economy,” Jones said.

European Policy Centre – CEP Programme Director, Milena Lazarević, said that the guarantee fund, which will be provided by the Economic and Investment Plan, has additional value, especially bearing in mind that economic aid has often come from parts of the world that are “not the most democratic”, with often disguised conditions.

“This plan shows the ‘human face’ of the accession process and aims to make the benefits of EU accession more tangible to the people,” said Simonida Kacarska from Macedonia’s European Policy Institute (EPI). “The EU’s desire is to work on building future EU member states, and this is shown by this plan,” she explained. 

Gjergi Vurmo from the Tirana-based think tank, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) says that many civil society organisations and other stakeholders have “urged” for the plan like this, given the growing pressure from the presence of other actors and countries in the region, such as China and Russia.

Wouter Zweers from Clingendael Institute told that the Economist estimated the difference between the average income in the EU and the Western Balkans was 15 times larger in 2017 than in 1989, and that some scenarios predict that the Western Balkans will need “200 years to move closer to the EU in economic terms. “The question is whether this plan will be enough to achieve economic convergence, ” he added.