This Policy Brief is produced within the project Raising capacities and advocacy potential of CSOs of Visegrad Group and Western Balkans.
The space for civil society contribution has been gradually shrinking across the Western Balkans, making it harder for civil society organisations to actively take part in the policymaking process in their home countries.
This paper aims to shed light on an insufficiently enabling, often even disabling, environment for the work of civil society organisations (CSOs) from the region. It does so by providing a comparative overview of CSOs involvement in the policymaking in different countries across the Western Balkans (WB), whilst also identifying the limitations of the very policymaking processes in the WB. Finally, as the accession process of the region accelerates, the paper shows how CSOs can use the EU’s more credible enlargement commitment to move beyond the unfavourable situation and increase their impact on policymaking.
The project was realised with the kind support of the International Visegrad Fund.
Governments across the Western Balkans have made efforts towards improving service delivery; however, they are still unable to meet their citizens’ expectations of more accessible, transparent and responsive services. Part of the problem is that governments continue to typically design and offer services on the basis of their own requirements instead of taking into account the perspectives and needs of the citizens they serve.
This report draws on a regional survey of 6172 respondents from Western Balkans aged 18 and older, surveyed in the second half of October and during November 2017 by using stratified three-stage random representative sampling. Its main aim was to explore perceptions towards the implementation of a citizen-oriented delivery of administrative services using the years 2015-2017 as a reference period. The main survey results are analysed below in four clusters: administrative simplification, e-services, feedback mechanisms of service delivery, and monitoring.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) of the Western Balkans (WB6) are relatively young compared to their counterparts from Visegrad countries (V4). This could be seen as a natural consequence related to political and historical circumstances in both regions over the past 20 years: the early transition to democracy in the V4 countries paved the way for growth of civil society sector and accelerated its development, while simultaneously the WB6 region experienced a severe social, economic and political downfall. Indeed, the post-communist era in the V4 served for the civil sector growth, as organisations could provide assistance in terms of expertise and resources in certain areas where, still fragile and recovering states, could not manage to do so. The development of civil society sector in V4 was therefore to a great extent impacted by democratic reforms, along with early public administration reform and Europeanisation processes, while the WB countries were still recovering from the fierce conflict period at that time.
It is our immense pleasure to share with you a collection of articles produced within the project Raising capacities and advocacy potential towards more substantive involvement of CSOs of V4 and WB6. This collection provides insights into challenges of civil society participation in policymaking in three countries of the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland), in the intention to share valuable lessons for the Western Balkan countries. Articles are a result of experience exchanging events that took place in spring and summer of 2017, gathering representatives of TEN Network and partner organisations from Visegrad countries: namely, a two-day workshop addressing experiences from Poland and Hungary was held in Budva (Montenegro) on 12-13 May, while on June 26-30, representatives of each of the TEN member organisations, together with civil servants from each of the Western Balkan countries, participated in a study tour to Slovak Republic and Czech Republic.
“The fundamentals first” approach announced in 2013 places the focus of the EU integration process on democracy and the rule of law. This mechanism relies on extensive system of benchmarking, which was developed for Romania and Bulgaria in the post-accession period (Cooperation and Verification Mechanism), while now it is being implemented for each chapter of the EU’s acquis under negotiation. Accordingly, benchmarks represent a set of requirements for accession negotiations for chapters of the acquis – opening and closing benchmarks (and interim benchmarks for Chapter 23 Judiciary and Fundamental rights and Chapter 24 Justice, Freedom and Security). The aim of such approach is at one side, to aid the candidate countries by making the requirements more concrete and on the other side to facilitate the process of assessment of progress achieved and thus navigate and give directions to the accession process. Moreover, benchmarks have been introduced for the countries that are yet to open accession negotiations without actually enjoying the benefits of negotiations. Thus, benchmarking has become the key mechanism of EU conditionality policy towards the Western Balkans (WB6) that should ensure the consistency and credibility of this policy, while providing encouragement for further reform. Although this mechanism has already been implemented for a decade, its results have not yet been systematically assessed.
The analyses, made within BENCHER Project represent a first major attempt to critically evaluate the degree to which the objectives are achieved and the extent to which targeted problems are solved in order to further advance in the EU accession process. The purpose is to highlight and compare the key developments in relation to the selected benchmarks in the six countries, whereas an in-depth discussion of the benchmarks in the separate countries is to be found in the national studies.
In 2016 the TEN network provided a structured, comprehensive and objective analysis of the European Commission country reports for the first time for all the Western Balkan countries, which enabled the comparison of the grading system and EC assessment of all the accession criteria/chapters of the country reports. Building upon this effort, one of the aims of the BENCHER Project is to deepen this analysis further, providing a more critical review of the EC assessments, based on the lessons learned. Furthermore, this year’s analysis dedicates a special focus to the recommendations provided by the EC in the 2015 and 2016 country reports, assessing the degree to which they were considered and implemented by each country. In addition, we have provided a critical note from a CSO’s standpoint as watchdogs of both the governments and the EU institutions.
With this analysis we aim to provide recommendations to the EU, for improving the monitoring mechanisms.
Other publications made within BENCHER Project can be found here.
You can access the contents of the publication below:
One of the lessons learnt from previous enlargement waves is the need to complement the politics of conditionality – that is, Brussel’s traditional ‘carrot and stick approach’ – with the politics of pressure – whereby the governments in the Balkan countries are ‘squeezed’ between civil society demands and an uncompromising European Commission.
In this Policy Brief, Milena Lazarevic and Corina Stratulat review the origins of civil society involvement in the public sector reforms leading to a country’s accession to the European Union. The search for civil society allies represents a promising break with the legacy of previous accessions in which governments were the Commission’s only trusted interlocutors. To avoid (or at least mitigate) the possibility of backsliding on reforms as it occurred in a number of Central Eastern European countries after their EU entry, the Commission is wisely investing now into the politics of bottom-up pressure for the Balkan aspirants.
The authors also draw lessons from recent steps taken to ensure a more transparent, formal and structured dialogue with civil society in all the countries of the region, and to boost the skills, knowledge and know-how of civil society organisations in the PAR area.
To that end, they recommend that, for each Balkan aspirant, the European Commission should:
Agree with the lead PAR authority on a uniform practice of publishing the agenda and minutes of each PAR Special Groups (PAR SG) meeting.
Decide on a common, structured approach to the organisation of preparatory consultations with civil society ahead of each PAR SG meeting.
Recommend that the government make all reports produced during the PAR process publicly available (both those produced by the EU’s missions/experts and those prepared by national institutions) to increase accountability and stimulate domestic policy debates.
This policy brief was originally published by European Policy Centre – EPC, as part of collaboration with the Think for Europe Network, under the framework of the WeBER project.
EU aspirants from the Western Balkans find themselves in a lengthy and demanding process of improving their policymaking systems. Sustainable results require not only robust tools and procedures but also the involvement of all interested parties – civil society, media, interest groups and associations – into policymaking. However, policymaking as a topic is under-researched and its relevance somewhat underestimated both by the state and the civil society actors in the region. This Position Paper presents arguments to highlight the necessity for more streamlined engagement of the civil society to act as effective scrutinisers of policymaking reforms as well as to take a more constructive role in policymaking processes, consequently rendering it more transparent and evidence-based.
States do not own a monopoly over information, therefore the role of civil society in the monitoring of public policies and achievement of strategic goals becomes even more important. Almost as a rule, transition countries lack official statistical data. Moreover, available data are usually incomplete; which makes evidence based policy making even more difficult, and also unreliable when it comes to officially presented data on the public policy implementation. Therefore, civil society should play its role as the corrective mechanism in relation to the relevant institutions at the national and regional level.
The process of implementation of the South East Europe 2020 Strategy, the regional strategy document, which was modeled on the reform agenda of the European Union (EU), Europe 2020, provides a framework for the greater involvement of civil society in the process of directing overall social and economic development of the region as well as institution-building process in countries that are still in the process of consolidating democracy. An area in which civil society organisations can provide special contribution is “Governance for Growth”, all-pervasive strategy pillar covering improvement of public services, fight against corruption and judicial reform. The mere fact that public officials are subjected to ever greater political conditioning by the EU, which can often lead to a risk to their personal careers and point out the corruption within institutions, is reflecting the importance of independent, external role of “watchdog” that civil society can take.
For the purposes of this publication, which aims to provide guidance to civil society organisations to engage in monitoring the “Governance for growth” pillar, monitoring is defined as systematic data collection towards gaining insight of the specific policy at a given time in relation to the targets and results. This definition reflects a paradigm shift when it comes to monitoring policy, i.e. from the former monitoring process, primarily focused on the implementation of certain policies, to the result-oriented monitoring, as an instrument that allows stakeholders and decision makers to monitor progress and impact of specific policies. As such, monitoring is a natural introduction to the evaluation of public policies, and assessment of the policy impact after a certain period of its implementation.
Full publication (in Montenegrin) is available here.
A comprehensive analysis of the EC’s country reports has been lacking on the regional level. There have been eﬀorts by CSOs at country level to provide a systematic input to the annual country reports and to the strategy through the so-called “shadow reports”, primarily intended to provide objective assessment of the accession process by the civil sector, which then served as an additional source for the Commission in monitoring and evaluation of the countries’ progress. This is the ﬁrst structured attempt to provide an independent regional analysis and follow-up of EC country reports on the Western Balkan countries, on the basis of a harmonised methodology and unique approach by a group of CSOs from the region.
You can access the contents of the publication via the following links:
From a conceptual perspective, performance audit and policy evaluation are very close fields, with highly converging goals, methods and tools. At the same time, in the Western Balkans these two fields have been evolving without connection and reference to each other. How can the two processes be brought closer together in the three studied WB countries – Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – with a view to ensure efficiencies and synergic development of these rather novel performance management instrument?
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