Curbing the executive bias in EU enlargement policy for a stronger democracy in the Western Balkans

Almost two decades have passed since the countries of the Western Balkans (WB) began their way on the European integration process. From today’s perspective, however, the region’s prospects of achieving EU membership in the foreseeable future appear rather grim.

This policy brief zooms precisely on this “executive bias” – the focus of the region’s EU integration process based largely on dialogue between elected governments, with insufficient involvement of parliaments and wider society. It contends that meeting membership criteria and securing the irreversibility of reforms post-accession is only possible if the ownership of reforms in aspirant countries is extended beyond the executive branch of power. It also offers recommendations towards building more substantive involvement of national parliaments and civil society in the EU integration process.

Policy brief is available for download here (English) and here (French).

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Effective benchmarking for concrete rule of law reforms in the Western Balkans

At the outset of a new political and institutional cycle of the EU, 2019 has been a year of many unknowns. For the countries of the Western Balkans, the direction of the future development of EU enlargement policy has been a key concern. During the mandate of the previous European Commission (EC) it has been clear for some time that there is discontent on the side of EU member states concerning the on-the ground effects of the enlargement methodology.

The discussions on the effects of the enlargement methodology gained new impetus following the European Parliamentary (EP) elections over the summer and related to the October 2019 European Council session at which the much-awaited decisions on the start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania were on the agenda. The EU debate on enlargement has recently been accompanied by formal requests from EU member states to revise the methodology of enlargement, primarily in view of the progress as related to monitoring rule of law. Such demands have surfaced in various places, including coming directly from French President Macron, as well as appearing in September 2019 decisions of the Bundestag and Dutch Parliament. In short, EU member states demand that the enlargement methodology includes modes of strictly ensuring the monitoring and implementation of reforms, especially in relation to rule of law, as well as responding to reversibility in the accession process.

In this brief, we focus on the lessons learned from rule of law benchmarking in the Western Balkans so far in order to provide input for ongoing discussions on revising the accession methodology. The brief first provides an overview of rule of law benchmarking and provides key recommendations that need to be taken into consideration when revising rule of law instruments in the accession process. It then proceeds to summarise the key findings of a comparative research project on the effectiveness of benchmarking in the EU accession process in the Western Balkans. The findings presented here reflect on the debates at the October 2019 summit, at which EU member states did not reach a decision despite the recommendations of the European Commission to the start the accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.

Download the Brief here.

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Proactive transparency and the right of access to information: Two sides of the same coin

Depending on the side initiating communication, there is a reactive transparency of the administration in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it is based on citizens requesting information pursuant to the Freedom of Access to Information Act, and the requested information is then granted to the citizens upon their request; and there is a proactive transparency, where the administration publishes specific information on its own initiative because it wants to inform the citizens of its work, on their rights and obligations, or wishes to involve the citizens in decision-making processes pertaining to laws, policies, actions and other.

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Preparing for accession negotiations in the Republic of Macedonia: What can we learn from WeBER monitoring?

This policy brief reflects on the significance of the findings of the WeBER project for the preparation of the institutional structures and procedures for managing the EU accession negotiations in the Republic of Macedonia. The WeBER project monitored a selected number of principles through its own indicators in all areas of the Principles of Public Administration and its findings are presented in a National Report and a Regional Comparative Report. These principles, offer a common denominator of public administration reform of all EU-aspiring countries, setting its course towards EU membership.

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Lack of government transparency in Serbia: Low accountability domestically and poor response to EU conditionality

The Government of Serbia falls short of ensuring transparency of its work. By regularly publishing cherry-picked information from its sessions, access to all adopted decisions becomes hardly possible and the approach to provision of information unjustifiably selective. In addition, by irregularly reporting to the public on its performance, the Government reduces possibilities for public scrutiny of its results. Also, irregular reporting on budgetary performance adds to the overall picture of insufficient and low-quality reporting. Civil society in Serbia recognises these problems and holds the view that the Government’s decision making is for the most part hidden from the eyes of the public. If the Government wishes to adhere to the principles of good governance, it can only do so by thoroughly and regularly publishing detailed information about its activities and results, thus paving the way for free exercise of public scrutiny and facilitating the accountability for its actions.

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Coping with the EU decision-making: How are the Balkan countries preparing their policymaking systems for membership?

High-quality standards in the development and coordination of public policy are always relevant in a domestic context but even more so in the framework of EU accession. Under the public administration reform (PAR) pillar of the European Union’s conditionality for the Balkans, the EU puts a strong emphasis on the improvement of the aspirants’ policy development and coordination practices. Independent monitoring suggests that the region’s governments currently display a low level of preparedness in the sphere of policymaking and coordination. Out of the broad PAR portfolio within the EU accession process, the area of policy development and coordination stands out as one of the weakest points.

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Western Balkan PAR Monitor 2017/2018 – Executive Summary

The PAR Monitor is the result of research undertaken over the past year by the Think for Europe Network, with the goal of providing a systematic civil society monitoring of public administration reforms (PAR) in the Western Balkans. This exercise was motivated by the need to strengthen domestic, bottom-up pressure from the civil society sector in the long run, in order to ensure that post-EU accession, when the leverage of the EU’s conditionality in the governance area weakens, the reform drive endures. Based on a robust methodological approach, combining quantitative and qualitative techniques, and building on the EU’s Principles of public administration, the PAR Monitor measures the countries’ state of play in PAR, benchmarks them against each other, and provides recommendations for improvement. The PAR Monitor also ensures complementarity with the monitoring carried out by SIGMA/OECD and the European Commission. It, therefore, provides a citizen and civil society focused perspective on the EU-SIGMA principles. The PAR Monitor comprises an overall comparative regional report and six country reports, each including findings on the 23 compound indicators designed by the WeBER project team to monitor a selection of 21 EU-SIGMA principles. All findings can be accessed via the Regional PAR Scoreboard at www.par-monitor.org. This document provides a summary of the key regional findings in the six areas of PAR.

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Evidence-based and inclusive policymaking in the Western Balkans: What role for think tanks and other policy-orientated CSOs?

 

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.

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Putting citizens first (?) Exploring public perceptions of administrative services in the Western Balkans

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. 

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Balkan enlargement and the politics of civic pressure: The case of the public administration reform sector

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.

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