Public consultations and policymaking in Serbia: Form over substance

Being part of the wider public administration reform (PAR), policymaking reforms in Serbia entail improvements in implementing consultations with stakeholders, and public debates on policy documents and legislation (hereinafter: public consultations), throughout the drafting process. By consulting the target groups throughout, the effects of the proposed solutions are assessed, and the costs minimized, which makes public consultations one of the most valuable tools in the preparation of draft policy documents and legislation. Moreover, involvement positively impacts sustainability of policies and ensure their responsiveness to real needs of the society.

However, public consultations are still insufficiently widespread in policymaking in Serbia, and when they are conducted, it is often pro forma, without ensuring the quality of the process. As a result, policies are often not adapted to the citizens’ needs, and their implementation degree is low. This further contributes to the reduced citizens’ trust in institutions[2], resistance to policy implementation, and ultimately, makes policies unsustainable.

The results of the National PAR Monitor 2019/2020 for Serbia indicate that there has been no progress in conducting public consultations compared to the baseline PAR Monitor for the period 2017/2018. In other words, public consultations have not been consistently conducted, there is a lack of continuity in reporting, and the real influence of public participation is limited due to minimal adoption of suggestions and comments. In addition, the competent authorities are insufficiently engaged in proactive informing and involving of stakeholders in the various stages of these processes.

Download the policy brief here (English) and here (Serbian).


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.


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!

Public engagement in developing key strategic public administration reform (PAR) documents

Consultation is structured public engagement, which involves seeking, receiving, analysing, and responding to feedback from stakeholders, by defining the purpose and subject of the consultation whether it is a policy initiative, regulatory change, or legislative proposal.

The use of public consultation has different implications for the improvement of the regulatory framework. If undertaken in a timely and effective manner, consultation captures the collective intelligence of a society and helps collect empirical information for analytical purposes, especially as a precondition for the move towards more analytically‐based models of decision‐making processes. Furthermore, consultation mechanisms are increasingly characterised by greater openness and accessibility, particularly for smaller, less organised interests, which leads towards more pluralistic approaches. Consultation is inherent to transparent and effective governance.

In North Macedonia, based on document analysis as regards the overall public consultation process, it can be said that evidence-based findings produced by CSOs are rarely referenced in the sample of adopted government policy documents. All in all, 19 policy documents in three areas, which are currently being implemented, have been analysed, out of which only 6 contain references to findings produced by CSOs.

Read more here (in English).


Proactive transparency and the right of access to information: A conversation starter between the government and the people

Proactive transparency and free access to information characterize democratic societies, introducing the order of a country to ensure transparency of the work of its administrative structures. These structures need to provide a basis for initiating communication between institutions and citizens. Communication rests on reactive transparency of the administration and its pursuit of the Freedom of Access to Information Act. Upon this Act, citizens are to receive information upon request, while the administration published specific information on its own initiative for the purpose of informing the citizens of its work, on their rights and obligations, or to involve citizens in decision-making processes pertaining to laws, policies, actions and other. This communication takes place on different levels and through various channels, and the development of new technologies and wider use of internet platforms and social media opens opportunities for new ways of involving the citizens.

The Brief can be downloaded here (in English) and here (in BHS).


Accountability – a vital prerequisite for public authorities

Accountability is a precondition for public authorities in order that they could be liable for the results or lack thereof while operating with resources entrusted to them as part of the mandate/competence conferred upon them. It ensures that public officials’ actions and decisions are subject to oversight, which on its part ensures that government initiatives achieve envisaged objectives and address needs of citizens they are intended to serve. In general, accountability arises when the Government’s performance is subject to oversight or requests by other persons or organizations for the Government to provide information justifying its actions.

Accountability and proactivity of public authorities have significantly advanced in the past two years.1 North Macedonia has progressed in most areas covered by the accountability principle and is now a top performer in the Region, albeit some important weaknesses still persist.

The new Law on Free Access to Public Information (LFAPI) has significantly improved the legal grounds for the implementation of this right. However, proactivity in the disclosure of information and datasets on official websites remain very low, which indicates a significant gap in the implementation of the LFAPI.

Find the Policy Brief here (in English) and here (in Macedonian).


Public service and human resources management: Shortcomings related to merit-based employment and access to senior civil service position

Developed democracies as a rule boast professional, largely apolitical civil services, which have been recognised as a crucial component of good public governance. Their work is centred on protecting the public interest. Hence, a modern civil service must be governed by specific codified rules, which set standards and procedures for keeping the civil service merit-based and apolitical, while ensuring integrity and accountability of civil servants, as well as sufficient security of their job positions with a view to protecting them against politically motivated dismissals.

This Brief is focused on shortcomings of laws governing state and public administration related to the merit-based employment procedure and the criteria for access to senior civil service positions and it offers concrete solutions for overcoming such deficiencies, which have been persisting over a long period of time.

The Brief can be downloaded here (in English).


Early consultations in BIH: An exception, not a rule

Political involvement is the fundamental mechanism through which citizens are included in democracies, and it is frequently linked to increased democracy, higher accountability, and more effective policy decisions. Open government reforms are built on effective citizen engagement in policymaking, which has the potential to renew the connection between policymakers and citizens. Citizens’ participation in policymaking is a crucial component of successful governance because it provides a new source of ideas, knowledge, and resources while also bolstering public confidence in the government. Complete, objective, and relevant information, defined consultation goals, and enough time and flexibility should all be part of the process.

The citizen, according to public administration theory and practice, is increasingly at the center of policymakers’ discussions, not just as a target, but also as an agent. The goal is to provide policies and services that are tailored to individuals’ needs and appropriate to their circumstances. Terms such as “co-creation” and “co-production” have emerged to reflect this systematic goal of ongoing collaboration among government agencies, non- government organizations, communities, and individuals.

The Brief can be downloaded here (in English) and here (in BHS).


PAR Monitor 2019/2020 package

The PAR Monitor 2019/2020 is the result of monitoring work performed in 2020 by the members of the Think for Europe Network, and it represents a compilation report of key findings from across the Western Balkans in the six areas of PAR defined by the Principles of Public Administration (SIGMA principles). As the second systematic PAR monitoring done in the region by civil society, this report offers not only comparisons between Western Balkan (WB) administrations but also a comparison with the baseline PAR Monitor findings of the 2017/2018 monitoring cycle.

PAR Monitor reports are based on a comprehensive methodological framework designed by the WeBER research team that combines quantitative and qualitative sources of evidence. With the SIGMA principles as the building blocks of monitoring work, PAR Monitor reports are complementary to similar work by SIGMA/OECD and the European Commission, differing in that they offer citizen and civil society perspectives on these principles. Together with this comparative regional report, the PAR Monitor package consists of six national reports, each including findings on a total of 23 compound indicators to monitor a selection of SIGMA Principles.

In line with the mission of the WeBER2.0 initiative, these monitoring exercises are driven by the necessity to strengthen domestic, bottom-up pressure for PAR from civil society in the region, especially from the view of keeping demand for this reform ongoing in the event of the loosening of the EU’s conditionality which may come with membership in the Union.


The Western Balkan PAR Monitor is available for download here: English

Flag: Albania on Twitter Twemoji 14.0

The National PAR Monitor Albania is available for download here:  English AlbanianFlag: Bosnia & Herzegovina on Twitter Twemoji 14.0The National PAR Monitor Bosnia and Herzegovina is available for download here: English BHS

Flag: North Macedonia on Twitter Twemoji 14.0The National PAR Monitor North Macedonia is available for download hereEnglish | Macedonian

Flag: Kosovo on Twitter Twemoji 14.0The National PAR Monitor Kosovo is available for download here: English Albanian
Twitter (Twemoji 14.0)The National PAR Monitor Serbia is available for download here: English Serbian

Flag: Montenegro on Twitter Twemoji 14.0The National PAR Monitor Montenegro is available for download here: English

Politicization risks in Albania’s civil service: Exclusions from the scope of the civil service law and the integrity of the senior civil service recruitment system

A transparent approach to consultation processes, inclusive of civil society and open to the public, is essential to ensure the integrity, quality, and legitimacy of decision-making. The effectiveness and genuineness of such processes are integrally bound to the transparency provided by the institutions in charge of the decision-making.

To enable public scrutiny, access to public consultation processes must be ensured by the government, from the initial phases of law-making and policy-making, before the draft documents reach the Parliament. The Council of Ministers (hereinafter ‘’the CoM’’) is a key actor in such processes since it submits an average of 80–85% of all the draft laws that are reviewed by the Parliament every year1. Therefore, this policy brief will address public consultation processes at the central government level with the aim to expose factors that enable their circumvention. It argues that to conduct successful and meaningful public consultations processes, the shortcomings in the legal framework and institutional practice that enable the circumvention, need to be addressed. Lastly, it provides policy recommendations that aim to eliminate the identified legal gaps and improve proactive transparency.

Find the Policy Brief here (in English) and here (in Albanian).


The role and potentials of the SAO in improving transparency, accountability, and efficiency of institutions

In the public administration context, as set forth under the SIGMA Principles, it is extremely important for the State Audit Office (SAO) to apply standards in a neutral and objective way in order to ensure high quality audits, which subsequently will have a positive impact on the public sector functioning. The documents presenting the outcomes of audits should be guided by three principles, i.e., they should be aimed at strengthening the responsibility, transparency, and integrity of the Government and of public sector entities (protection of the public interest); then they should emphasize the importance of such principles to citizens, to the Parliament and to other stakeholders; and finally, they should demonstrate what it means to lead by a role model.

The SAO is one of the key institutions in identifying and disclosing irregularities, cases of illegal actions and possible cases of corruption and abuse of office. In this regard, the latest European Commission (EC) Report explicitly states that it is necessary to allocate adequate resources for this institution that has competences in the fight against corruption in order to be able to pursue high-profile cases.

Find the Policy Brief here (in English) and here (in Macedonian).