Many of us in Albania had very mixedfeelings when reading the last EC report. Let me explain why.
If the executive summary of the report hypothetically were to read “this year, the wolves decided to spare the life of the sheep”, apparently, the wolves would be praised as heroes. Nevertheless, if one also considers the other finding (buried somewhere between pages 90 and 95) that “the wolves, however, tried every trick to hunt down every single sheep”, then it is clear that the sheep are the true heroes (for surviving the wolves’ hunt) and the wolves are, of course, “les mechants”.
Commission reports are increasingly seen as political and biased. To a large extent, the EC has helped to build such a perception by highlighting findings in its reports which will not make WB governments uncomfortable. Of course, one cannot accuse the EC of deception. After all, the problematic findings are usually stated in the report, although not in the highlights section. Such an approach, however, misleads the audience – whether specialised or not. Furthermore, it brings into question the credibility of the EC and its reports.
To illustrate with a few examples. The summary of the EC report for Albania notes “no progress” in relation to the freedom of expression and civil society during the reporting period. However, on page 33 the same report underlines that the counter-terrorism police (!?) arrested a 25 year old civil society activist and held her in custody for 4 days for sharing an article on her Facebook page; or that the police has beaten journalists and other civil society activists attending protests against the demolition of the national theater, and so on and so forth. These findings, combined with the fact that the Government of Albania misused the pandemic in open attack of (what’s left of Albanian) democracy, make one wonder why the freedom of expression in Albania has not declined according to the EC? Why has the defamation package which the EU itself opposed, and which is partially in force in Albania, not affected the freedom of expression systematically?
The EC report’s assessments are sometimes confusing, to say the least. As an example, take the 5 June agreement between ruling and opposition parties on electoral reform and the amendments to the electoral code adopted on 23 July. The EC argues that this implies that the condition for “consensual electoral reform”, set by the Council to open accession talks with Albania, has been met, regardless of the fact that on 5 October 2020 the ruling party adopted other amendments to the electoral code without a consensus with the opposition. It is unclear why the EC thinks that the non-consensual change of the rules on 5 October is unrelated to 5 June.
Here is another example. The EC truthfully reports that the Venice Commission issued an opinion on a dispute about the appointment procedure of one of the judges nominated in late 2019. However, the EC report neglects to mention that on the same dispute, the EU Delegation (hence the EC itself) wrongfully sided with the Government and supported the attempted illegal procedure. Why is this important, beyond its factualness? It is because the EU needs to build its credibility in the eyes of the people, and not to please WB autocrats.
The EU needs to ally with the ambition of WB citizens instead of praising the fake achievements of autocrats. If the EC reports pay lip service to the current autocracy…what will stop them from doing the same with the next autocrat?
Unfortunately, parts of the EC 2020 report for Albania seem like a Machiavellian report which sides with the ambition of daily politics in Albania but not with that of Albanian citizens. And just to be more explicit, Albanians’ ambition is not “EU membership at any cost today”. Rather, our ambition is “democracy and rule of law at any cost first… Once done with that, let’s talk about EU membership too”.
Gjergji Vurmo is the Programme Director of Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), Tirana-based think tank.
The Think for Europe Network (TEN) and the Clingendael Institute are looking ahead at the EU’s policies to support socio-economic development of the Western Balkans.
Beyond the immediate assistance the EU provided to the Western Balkans to tackle short-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU is committed to supporting long-term economic development of the Western Balkans through a variety of financial instruments. Given that the region’s economic convergence gap with the EU is widening, many challenges lie ahead before the Western Balkans and the EU, especially in making the best of its available funds dedicated towards this region.
Based on the negative experience with certain EU member states, it seems crucial to ensure that the awaited EU’s financial assistance supports good governance and democratic consolidation, instead of unintentionally producing opposite effects. In fact, European Commission’s country reports proposed a direct link between the functioning of the market economy and the enforcement of the rule of law. At the same time, the just released communication on Economic and Investment Plan pays considerable attention to good governance in the context of economic growth, thus putting additional pressure on EU aspirants to take the “EU fundamentals” more seriously.
This panel discussion will address the of rule of law conditionality in the context of the EU’s economic development assistance, the prospects for the region’s economic catch-up with the EU, as well as how the existing instruments can be embedded in the revised accession methodology and its principles of greater transparency, public scrutiny, and “more for more” approach.
-Allan Jones, Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), European Commission -Milena Lazarević, European Policy Centre (CEP), Belgrade -Simonida Kacarska, European Policy Institute (EPI), Skopje -Gjergji Vurmo, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), Tirana -Wouter Zweers, Clingendael Institute, The Hague
Moderator: Sena Marić, CEP
We welcome your participation and your valuable contribution to this conference! We kindly ask you to confirm your attendance via thislinkby Monday 12 October.
WeBER 2.0 – Western Balkan Civil Society Empowerment for a Reformed Public Administration is seeking project proposals for the implementation of the Local Civil Society PAR Enabling Small Grant Facility (SGF) for support to civil society monitoring of public administration reform at the local level. Find more information here.
Please find below information about the info sessions that will be held for interested applicants.
Please announce your participation at the info session by contacting the country representative as indicated in the table below.
Results from the public perception survey on service delivery suggest that governments in the Western Balkans are striving towards digitalisation and citizen-oriented services. This year’s surveys show that all of the countries in the region are either making progress or remain at the level of the first PAR Monitor 2017/2018.
Public perception points to a more citizen-oriented service delivery
Compared to the results of the previous PAR Monitor, Serbia and Albania record the most noticeable changes with regards to citizens’ perceived simplicity of dealing with public administration (Graph 1). In other words, there were respectively 23 and 18 percentage point increases in these two countries, followed by Montenegro at 14 percentage points.
Survey also show that roughly two thirds of citizens in the region feel that governments are moving towards digitalisation (69%). Apart from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where slightly below 50% of citizens perceive this trend, in all the other countries of the region, between 66 and 81% of citizens surveyed feel this way. At the regional level, citizens noted positive improvement in the time needed to obtain administrative services. This was especially so in Serbia, Albania, and Montenegro, where more than 60% citizens confirmed it has decreased.
It is also worth noting that 58% of citizens in the region claim to recognise governments’ efforts to simplify administrative procedures – more than in the previous PAR Monitor. As before, public administration in Kosovo takes first place according to perceptions, followed by Serbia.
The availability of e-services: more awareness, same levels of usage
The public is increasingly aware of e-services across the Western Balkan countries. Unlike the previous PAR Monitor, no country records below 50% of awareness, with as high as 74% of citizens in Albania (Graph 2). On the flip side, we find that a lot of citizens still do not use these services – a third of citizens in the region stated they had never used them. Additionally, with less than a third of citizens using them either rarely or just sometimes, many used them only occasionally. Notably, only 10% of citizens have used e-services often.
At the same time, surveys show that most citizens in every country (between 70 and 80%) report that e-services are easy to use. This resembles the results of PAR Monitor 2017/2018, in which approximately 80% of citizens surveyed in all countries included reported the ease of use of these services.
Bearing in mind the high awareness figures, a lack of information on e-services is unlikely to account for the low-level usage. More than two thirds of citizens who used e-services, more or less frequently, had little or no difficulties finalising services they requested. Nonetheless, in terms of public perceptions, there has been tangible improvement in citizen-oriented service delivery in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia. On the other hand, the situation in Kosovo and North Macedonia has mostly remained unchanged.
 As for the 2017/2018 PAR Monitor, public perception of the awareness of and usefulness of feedback mechanisms, and their availability to citizens, is measured with public perception surveys that were implemented in each of the Western Balkan countries in the same manner. Surveys were implemented in the period from 5 to 30 May 2020.
In 2015, EU member states deployed police units to North Macedonia’s border with Greece to assist in handling the refugee crisis. The cooperation has been effective but has lacked transparency.
The so-called “Balkan Route” has been one of the main paths for migrants and refugees to Western Europe. The migrants who arrived in Greece in 2015 had a direct influence on this route with their intention to reach the closest borders of EU member states through the Republic of North Macedonia, Albania and Serbia. In 2015, 764,033 illegal entries of migrants were detected in the Balkans in an attempt to cross the Serbian border with Hungary to further continue their journey to the developed countries. The numbers attest to fact that the challenges of the Balkan migration route cannot be overcome solely by the efforts of one individual country or an EU member state, but through a “joint cross-border approach based on cooperation”.
Consequently, in May 2015, the European Commission established the European Agenda on Migration to address the challenges relating to illegal migration, borders, asylum and legal migration. Due to EU’s inability to resolve the migrant issue through national policies and activities of individual EU member states, on October 25th, 2015, Jean-Claude Juncker invited the leaders of Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Republic of North Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia to meet in Brussels. The meeting resulted in a “17-point plan of action”, which includes measures for tackling the migration crisis by guiding the operation of the EU agencies towards establishing a system for exchange of information and strengthening the Frontex Western Balkans Risk Analysis Network, with enhanced reporting from all participants.
Cooperation between the Republic of North Macedonia and Frontex
In July 2018, EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Macedonian Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski signed a Status Agreement that would allow Frontex to deploy units to Macedonia. The agreement will enable Frontex to carry out joint operations in and together with Macedonia in the event of serious or pressing migration issues. The draft version of this agreement will allow a team of a Frontex member state to carry out activities on the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia under the leadership and in the company of our competent authorities. Nonetheless, this clause stipulates that Frontex representatives may communicate their views through they coordination officer to the representatives of the Macedonian police authorities.
In that event, the national authorities need to consider any such views and fully adhere to them. However, this provision may cause inconsistencies in the implementation if the views under consideration are not in accordance with the appropriate (effective) national legislative framework of our country. Hence, there is a potential risk of possible illegal actions. Due to the lack of public awareness of this issue, there is a need for wider public debate until the ratification of the Agreement in order to improve its content.
Foreign Border Guard from the EU and other Countries to the Republic of North Macedonia
The purpose of the cooperation is to provide Macedonian border police with assistance from foreign police officers in patrolling the south border with Greece and in performing their daily duties. Furthermore, the cooperation involves joint training, information exchange and coordination. One hundred and sixty six (166) foreign police officers guarded the Macedonian border at the expense of the EU. The number of foreign police officers has gradually increased, and new contingents arrived in the country in 2019.
Even though Article 5 of the Law on State Border Protection stipulates that border control falls within the competence of the Ministry of Interior and that the police departments of the Ministry carry out border control activities, Article 59 of the same law provides for foreign police presence. Namely, this article stipulates that, based on a ratified international agreement, police officers from other countries may perform activities related to border control and other matters related to international police cooperation. On the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia, foreign police officers may use technical equipment and vehicles with symbols, wear uniforms, carry weapons and other means of coercion, under the conditions and in a manner determined by an international agreement.
In this regard, Macedonia concluded with Serbia, Hungary and Austria a Memorandum of Understanding, which is different from the usual agreements signed between countries. The key distinction between this Memorandum and other agreements is that in case of dispute other agreements can be executed through the judicial authorities, whereas this Memorandum of Understanding cannot be. More importantly, the Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia has not ratified the signed memorandum. It was never published in the Official Gazette, which makes it only a declarative document. Nonetheless, that did not stop foreign police contingents from coming to our borders in the period from 2015 to 2019.
Need for Transparency
The 2015 refugee crisis challenged the stability of the EU’s internal and external border control. The Balkan countries played a key role in the management and control of EU’s external borders, supported by substantial financial and technical resources provided by the EU, its agencies and EU member states. Despite strengthening police capacities and establishing a good practice for cooperation with foreign police authorities, one cannot but emphasize the lack of transparency in the processes.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed with foreign police authorities has not been made public, the instrument was not ratified by the Assembly and the exact number of foreign police officers deployed to the Republic of North Macedonia is not available on the websites of the competent authorities. This is a result of the country’s flexible approach to the cooperation with other countries in dealing with the refugee crisis.
Media coverage and statements from the Ministry of Interior are the only sources of information on the situation at the borderlines. Furthermore, the political, financial and other obligations arising from the Frontex Status Agreement should be discussed publicly with all stakeholders, including representatives of relevant institutions, academia and experts, in order to improve the country’s position on the issue. Finally, after the ratification of the agreement, its implementation needs to be monitored.
Author: Ismail Kamberi, Researcher, European Policy Institute – EPI Skopje
There were times in the Western Balkan (WB) countries, maybe some fifteen years ago, when local politicians, media and civil society were carefully reading the European Commission’s (EC) progress reports. It was a time in which the public was eager to hear from civil society and media as per what exactly was the EU’s assessment of the country’s progress. Progress reports were considered technical rather than political documents: an expert opinion by an objective and trusted “judge”. At that time, civil society organizations (CSOs) were pushing the EC to use unbiased language and include an assessment scale, so that we could better track the progress and explain it to the public. Eventually, the EC did so by introducing scales for progress and subsequently for the level of preparedness for each chapter.
Faced with the prospect of more direct language that would expose their resistance to progress and even autocratic tendency, WB leaders started channeling other sources within the European Union (EU) to question the credibility of EC reports. First in line was the group of sister parties in the European Parliament. Depending on the political affiliation of the WB government, WB leaders would ensure the citizens hear Members of the European Parliament (MEP) commenting on positive aspects of the EC report. However, as the opposition parties started doing the same with MEPs from their political spectrum, this channel was soon exposed in the eyes of WB public. The next in line were Member States’ officials and the narrative that “the EU is complex (…) Member States have different interests (…) and that it is not us, but the EU that is failing”. It has not been difficult to find senior officials in the Member States articulating the narrative of a faulty EU over the past decade. Indeed, the EU is complex and has diverging interests at times, which has made it easier to sell a half-true narrative to the public as a fully true one.
As WB leaders succeeded to undermine the trustworthiness of EC reports in the eyes of the domestic public, they also cast doubt among the Member States. And truth be told – who can blame them? When the EC claimed good progress in Albania for the fight against corruption, the country was sinking at TI’s Corruption perceptions index with a record drop of 23 places between 2016 and 2019. Similarly, while Vučić was attacking the free press and closing media in Serbia the then Enlargement Commissioner Hahn was seeking proof of media censorship. These developments challenged the objectivity of the Commission specifically and the EU more generally and caused EC reports to be seen as biased and political by many audiences in the WBs and the Member States. Consequently, the EU’s credibility is standing on shaky ground, both at home and in the WB region.
The new methodology
The new accession methodology is a good, but insufficient attempt towards restoring EU’s credibility in the WB region. The document resembles more a “peace agreement” between EC and EU Member States, rather than a roadmap for a credible and accelerated accession for WB countries. Although its purpose is to reinvigorate the accession process and build a credible EU perspective for the WBs, much of its content is about reassuring the voice of Member States in the enlargement process. It is less about the role of WB citizens and civil society in the accession process. A simple word-count in the document underscores this conclusion. While explaining the new methodology, the 8-page document mentions :
The Member States / 18 times
European Commission / 14 times
Western Balkans / 10 times
Enlargement / 6 times
Conditionality / 4 times
WB citizens / 3 times
(EU) Membership / twice
Civil society / only once.
A peace agreement between EC and the Member States is not a bad thing per se. WB citizens are in dire need of a credible EU to speak with one voice on issues that matter to them. We haven’t seen much of this recently, which has led to great disillusionment and lack of hope.
The mutual trust between EC and the Member States is a good development, for as long as it aims to restore the EU’s credibility and reinvigorates the Commission’s annual reports as an objective expert evaluation of WBs progress – free of political games. In doing so, the EU should not trade stability for democracy. EU and EC reports should be equally vocal and straightforward, not only when Member States’ interests are threatened (illegal migration, organized crime, terrorism, etc.) but also when WB citizens’ priorities are at stake (corruption, state capture, decline of democracy, shrinking civic space, and deteriorated freedom of expression).
To deliver on this expectation, the new methodology must carefully read the causes and the symptoms of stagnation in the WBs. Most importantly, it should not ignore the most reliable partner and ally of the EU in the region: citizens, civil society and independent media.
Needless to say, the EU has to work with governments and political actors in the WB, but it should align with the ambition of citizens. It should not shy away from their voice just to please fake reformers in the government or opposition. It should strengthen the people’s role, and the voice of independent media and civil society to keep governments accountable.
Unfortunately, the document largely ignores the WB civil society and the role we should play in the accession and democratization reforms. We are mentioned only once in the methodology with the purpose of being assured that EU funds will continue supporting our work, even when the EU decides to punish WB governments for lack of progress.
The new methodology for EU enlargement fails to capitalize on a huge potential for change in the WBs. This change requires a credible EU speaking openly with one voice against state capture, corruption, shrinking freedom of expression and civic space, threatened independent media and democratic values. More than funding, WB civil society needs to be reassured about its role under the new accession methodology.
There is still time to improve the document and make the new approach more effective and reliable. It will increase chances for real change and the impact of the novelties introduced in the methodology. There are many positive elements in the new methodology such as:
The inclusion of Chapter 5 and Chapter 32 under the Fundamentals cluster;
Stronger link with the economic reform program;
Regular EU-Western Balkans summits and intensified ministerial contacts;
Clear and tangible incentives of direct interest to citizens, such as “phasing-in” to individual EU policies, increased funding and more investments.
Other positive aspects of the document have triggered interests by Member States and WB leaders. However, the main challenge ahead is to make the new methodology more credible and attractive to WB citizens and their civil society.
This will require something less expensive than EU funds, but far more impactful. It will require partnering with the ambition of WB citizens, entrusting them a role in the accession process, and empowering civil society, media, and other agents of change against captured political class in our countries. That is the only sustained way to help ourselves at home and to help address the EU’s own concerns such as illegal migration, security, and organized crime.
 # of mentions excluding the title of the document(s).
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 overall goal of the Small Grant Facility corresponds to the specific objective of the WeBER 2.0 project: To strengthen the engagement of grassroots and other local CSOs in local PAR, thus further building bottom-up demand and bringing PAR closer to region’s citizens.
The aim of the Small Grant Facility is to provide support for grassroots and local CSOs, that are active in monitoring and evaluation of the PAR in the Western Balkans. Additionally, the Small Grant Facility will support CSOs to engage citizens in PAR through implementation of local citizens consultations, to advocate for PAR locally and establish dialogue on PAR with local authorities. The complete Call for Proposals and all relevant documents are available for download here (in English).
Below you can find information and application packages in local languages:
Fuqizimi i Shoqërisë Civile të Ballkanit Perëndimor për një Administratë Publike të Reformuar shpall thirrjen për projekt-propozime për zbatimin e ndarjes së granteve të vogla për mbështetjen e monitorimit të reformës së administratës publike nga shoqëria civile, në nivelin lokal. Thirrja për propozime ka shumën totale prej 225.000 EUR, të destinuara për të mbështetur deri në 30 grante, secila me vlerë deri në 8000 EUR (7500 EUR mesatarisht), nga të cilat 6 në Serbi, 6 në Bosnje dhe Hercegovinë, 5 në Shqipëri, 5 në Maqedoninë e Veriut, 4 në Kosovë dhe 4 në Mal të Zi. Kohëzgjatja e granteve është mes 6 dhe 12 muaj. Projekti WeBER 2.0 financohet nga Bashkimi Evropian (BE). Thirrja e plotë për Propozime dhe të gjitha dokumentet përkatëse janë në dispozicion për shkarkim më poshtë:
WeBER 2.0 projekat – Osnaživanje civilnog društva Zapadnog Balkana za reformisanu javnu upravu raspisuje konkurs za dodjelu malih grantova za podršku organizacijama civilnog društva koje se bave monitoringom reforme javne uprave na lokalnom nivou. Ukupna predviđena sredstva iznose 225.000 eura i ona su namjenjena za podršku 30 projekata u iznosu do 8.000 eura (7.500 eura u prosjeku) od kojih će do 6 biti podržano u Srbiji, do 6 u Bosni i Hercegovini, do 5 u Albaniji, do 5 u Sjevernoj Makedoniji, do 4 na Kosovu i do 4 u Crnoj Gori. Predviđeno trajanje projekata koji će biti odobreni u okviru konkursa je između 6 i 12 mjeseci. WeBER 2.0 projekat finansira EU. Kompletna konkursna dokumentacija nalazi se ispod:
WeBER 2.0 – Fuqizimi i Shoqërisë Civile të Ballkanit Perëndimor për një Administratë Publike të Reformuar shpall thirrjen për projekt-propozime për zbatimin e ndarjes së granteve të vogla për mbështetjen e monitorimit të shoqërisë civile të reformës së administratës publike në nivelin lokal. Thirrja për propozime ka shumën totale prej 225.000 EUR, të destinuara për të mbështetur deri në 30 grante, secila me vlerë deri në 8000 EUR (7500 EUR mesatarisht), nga të cilat 6 në Serbi, 6 në Bosnje dhe Hercegovinë, 5 në Shqipëri, 5 në Maqedoninë e Veriut, 4 në Kosovë dhe 4 në Mal të Zi. Kohëzgjatja e granteve është mes 6 dhe 12 muaj. Projekti WeBER 2.0 financohet nga Bashkimi Evropian (BE). Thirrja e plotë për Propozime dhe të gjitha dokumentet përkatëse janë në dispozicion për shkarkim më poshtë:
WeBER 2.0 projekat – Osnaživanje civilnog društva Zapadnog Balkana za reformisanu javnu upravu raspisuje konkurs za dodjelu malih grantova za podršku organizacijama civilnog društva koje se bave monitoringom reforme javne uprave na lokalnom nivou. Ukupna predviđena sredstva iznose 225.000 eura i ona su namijenjena za podršku 30 projekata u iznosu do 8.000 eura (7.500 eura u prosjeku) od kojih će do 6 biti podržano u Srbiji, do 6 u Bosni i Hercegovini, do 5 u Albaniji, do 5 u Sjevernoj Makedoniji, do 4 na Kosovu i do 4 u Crnoj Gori. Predviđeno trajanje projekata koji će biti odobreni u okviru konkursa je između 6 i 12 mjeseci. WeBER 2.0 projekat finansira Evropska unija (EU). Kompletna konkursna dokumentacija nalazi se ispod:
WeBER 2.0 – Зајакнување на граѓанското општество од западниот Балкан за реформирана јавна администрација е во потрага по предлози за проекти за спроведување на Програмата за мали грантови за поддршка на следењето на реформите во јавната администрација на локално ниво од страна на граѓанското општество. Повикот е со вкупна вредност од 225.000 евра и се планира да се поддржат до 30 грантови, секој со вредност до максимум 8000 евра (7500 евра во просек), од кои 6 во Србија, 6 во БиХ, 5 во Албанија, 5 во Северна Македонија, 4 во Косово и 4 во Црна Гора. Траењето на избраните грантови ќе биде помеѓу 6 и 12 месеци. Проектот WeBER 2.0 е финансиран од Европската Унија. Комплетниот повик и сите потребни документи се достапни за симнување:
WeBER 2.0 projekat – Osnaživanje civilnog društva Zapadnog Balkana za reformisanu javnu upravu raspisuje konkurs za dodelu malih grantova za podršku organizacijama civilnog društva koje se bave monitoringom reforme javne uprave na lokalnom nivou. Ukupna predviđena sredstva iznose 225.000 evra i ona su namenjena za podršku 30 projekata u iznosu do 8.000 evra (7.500 evra u proseku) od kojih će do 6 biti u podržano u Srbiji, do 6 u Bosni i Hercegovini, do 5 u Albaniji, do 5 u Severnoj Makedoniji, do 4 na Kosovu i do 4 u Crnoj Gori. Predviđeno trajanje projekata koji će biti odobreni u okviru konkursa je između 6 i 12 meseci. WeBER 2.0 projekat finansira Evropska unija (EU). Kompletna konkursna dokumentacija nalazi se ispod:
Slowly but surely, citizens and the economy of the European Union are beginning to feel the direct and negative repercussions of an increasingly present disregard for breaches of rule of law across member states. The concept of rule of law (which includes elements such as the principle of legality, legal certainty, separation of powers, the prohibition of arbitrary executive power, and the presence of a functional judicial system) is therefore no longer abstract and reserved for discussions within the expert community. In fact, the greatest and most palpable of the EU’s achievements – the single market, the Schengen Zone, and the Eurozone – cannot function if the stability of rule of law is endangered in any member state. At the same time, the existing EU protection mechanisms for the rule of law have so far been redundant. This causes growing frustration within the EU, to the point that some intellectuals openly condition their support for the EU with results in this area. The importance of rule of law, therefore, takes on a practical dimension alongside the normative.
From the standpoint of an advocate for the European project in Serbia also bitter about the hypocritical attitude of key EU actors towards political elites in Serbia and the Western Balkans, I perceive such a development as an opportunity to create a pan-European alliance for defending rule of law, bearing in mind that neither the EU’s future nor our region’s accession process, have much hope without brave and ambitious steps in this area.
Simply put, future enlargements will not happen, as long as a functional system for protecting rule of law is not established within the EU. Many member states will not permit new entrants if the only somewhat effective system of conditionality exists during accession negotiations (i.e. prior to membership). If there is no concrete progress in preventing breaches to rule of law, either on the EU’s side or by the candidate countries, the revised approach to the accession process of the Western Balkans (the “new methodology”) will also be limited in its application. How, for example, would one permit the phased accession of candidates to sectoral policies of the EU, such as within the single market cluster, knowing that the functioning of the single market is dependent on the proper application of rule of law?
To prepare for the difficult times ahead, the citizens of Europe need new guiding ideas and goals, which would give them a purpose and reawaken their spirits. A pan-European alliance for defending rule of law would have its stronghold in the citizens, as well as of political and economic actors of member states and EU aspirants, brought together both by normative ideals and pragmatic interests. Aware of the risks to the existing level of economic integration and legal security, or simply out of a wish to live in a better-organised society, this bloc has immense potential to gather a wide array of supporters and, with adequate political representation, to become a challenger to the status quo.
Beyond growing public endorsement, this alliance would be armed with existing initiatives and policy proposals at the EU level, which promise to start a revolution of sorts within the existing legal framework. Other than the infringement procedure which is launched by the European Commission (EC), and the preliminary rulings by the European Court of Justice, which could both be used more confidently in the future, a proposal for a Regulation on the protection of the Union’s budget in cases of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in the member states, also deserves substantial attention. The goal of this regulation is to condition access to EU financial resources on adherence to rule of law, giving unprecedented authority to the European Commission. Among others, this regulation would turn the EC into a sort of Venice Commission for the EU budget, authorised to implement measures in cases of limited rule of law, in close cooperation with the European Public Prosecution Office and the European Anti-Fraud Office. The Council of the EU would also reach decisions by reverse qualified majority voting, intended to make it difficult for member states to block EC proposals, thus speeding up the decision-making process.
Eventually, the pan-European alliance would pressure political representatives and foster political will, in order to push forward various measures for the protection of rule of law within the framework of the EU as well as in the context of the Western Balkans’ accession process. Of course, this alliance would necessarily have to introduce sensitive issues to the public along the way, such as Europe’s demographic picture and policies, and (ir)regular migrations, which potential allies and supporters within the EU and the Western Balkans are perhaps not yet ready to face. Nevertheless, is it worth sacrificing the greatest achievements of the EU for the sake of defending the “gates of Europe” and its purported “Christian identity”, by mutually tolerating open breaches of rule of law? It most certainly is not, and now is the right moment to stop running from these issues out of a fear of populism and to instead shake up the status quo with a fresh perspective.
Sena Marić, Programme Manager and Senior Researcher, European Policy Centre – CEP
Brand-new public perception survey results indicate fewer citizen-friendly options for providing opinions on administrative services, compared to PAR Monitor 2017/2018. At the same time, public opinion regarding the involvement of citizens and civil society in monitoring services is clearly growing. When it comes to the availability of information on citizen feedback, websites of service providers are no better than before. Such information on received feedback is mostly absent from their online portals, even in its most basic form.
The public views feedback channels as harder to use but stronger effects of external monitoring of service delivery
Perception surveys indicate that around half of the Western Balkan population sees possibilities to give opinions on the quality of services. This perception grew for almost 20% since the PAR Monitor 2017/2018. On the country level, roughly a third of citizens in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina believe this is the case while in all the others, it reaches more than 50% of population.
In terms of the citizen-friendliness however, things appear to have gotten worse. A striking example is Albania, with 42% less of those surveyed noting that feedback channels are easy to use. In four of the countries, this decline is 30 percentage points or more.
More citizens in the region feel they are involved, together with civil society, in monitoring service delivery by administrations (42% as opposed to 26% previously). This has also led to a growing perception that such involvement has in fact improved service delivery. The difference can go as high as 20 percentage points, as in the cases of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Service providers remain reluctant to divulge details on feedback from citizens
There is a general lack of transparency of the information shared by citizens as feedback. Like the baseline PAR Monitor, administrations share almost no such information regarding five common administrative services. These include property, business, vehicle registration, obtaining personal documents, and VAT declaration and payment.
Still, some have just started publishing information in some areas – in Albania, for vehicle registration, and in Serbia, there is some basic data on the numbers of received and resolved complaints regarding registering businesses.
Overall, without transparency on feedback and how it is being used, citizen-oriented service delivery is hardly imaginable. Providing details on how users feel about services should become business as usual, but is, instead, lacking for the second monitoring cycle in a row. Overall, the PAR Monitor 2019/2020 has shown few major changes, and a certain level of backsliding in two countries.
 As in PAR Monitor 2017/2018, public perceptions on awareness of and usefulness of feedback mechanisms, and availability of feedback information to citizens, are measured through public perception surveys implemented in each of the Western Balkan countries in the same manner. Surveys were implemented in the period from the 5 to 30 May 2020.
On the Zoom platform, 22/7/2020 the fifth meeting of the National Working Group (NWG) for Public Administration Reform (PAR) within WeBER in BiH was held. This was the first meeting of the working group in Bosnia and Herzegovina within the new WeBER2.0 project. At the meeting, Mahir Sijamija, VPI BH Project Officer, announced and presented the new program of small grants for civil society organizations. After that, Anida Šabanović, director of VPI BH and Haris Ćutahija, researcher of VPI BH, held a presentation on the topic “European consultations with citizens: introduction and presentation of methods”. The meeting ended with a discussion on the implementation and priorities of public administration reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina and on the status and activities of civil society organizations involved.
The event brought together representatives of civil society, as well as experts in the field of public administration reform.
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