EU enlargement to the Western Balkans in the light of the war in Ukraine: Enlargement Package 2022

Belgrade, 7 November 2022 – Today, the event “Unpacking the Enlargement Package 2022: EU Enlargement to the Western Balkans in the light of the war in Ukraine” was held in Belgrade, organised by the regional Think for Europe Network – TEN. The panel was conducted in cooperation with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR). TEN and DG NEAR organised this type of event for the third time.

This time, the participants at the event were Maciej Popowski, European Commission’s acting Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), who presented the Report and was followed by reactions from TEN member organisations – Srđan Majstorović, Chairman of the Governing Board, European Policy Centre – CEP, Belgrade, Marko Sošić, a researcher at the Institute Alternative, Podgorica, Arber Fetahu, a research fellow at the Group for Legal and Political Studies, Pristina, Ardita Abazi Imeri, programme coordinator at the European Policy Institute – EPI, Skopje, and Alban Dafa, a researcher at the Institute for Democracy and Mediation – IDM, Tirana. The panel was moderated by Corina Stratulat from European Policy Centre – EPC, Brussels.

Maciej Popowski, European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

“The Russian aggression has fundamentally changed the security structure of Europe”, highlighted Popowski. Regarding the Western Balkan countries, he said that the most commented decision from the Enlargement Package 2022 is the Commission’s recommendation to grant candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Popowski added that in this Enlargement Package, the focus on fundamentals was “as strong as ever” and stated that the revised Enlargement methodology works well but that, in some aspects, can be developed more, for instance, with gradual integration.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: “Bosnia and Herzegovina is the winner of this Enlargement package, but, truth to be told, we do not deserve it”, said Ćutahija. He added that, due to ethnic division, the functionality of BiH is undermined. He also mentioned that the problem is that there are no sanctions for BiH’s politicians, who all proclaimed membership in the EU as a goal when they do not fulfil the required criteria.

North Macedonia: The European Commission held its first Intergovernmental Conference with North Macedonia in July 2022, and this is an important step that showed dedication to the Enlargement. But, a large part of this year’s Report’s content is the same as last year’s and repeats the same recommendations, which shows that we did not advance on our road to the EU membership, said Abazi Imeri.

Albania: EU is currently trying to do as much as it can in order to prevent Russia and China from establishing a foothold in Western Balkans, but it does not have a strategic approach. EU gets a lot from the region, and it needs to invest a lot as well, said Alban Dafa.

Serbia: Serbia hasn’t moved since 2016, and there’s a lack of transformative effects of the enlargement. The assessment of political criteria is critical, and it needs to be put in focus, said Majstorovic. Majstorovic highlighted that the moment for fundamental changes is now and that both sides must show dedication to the common future. “If we fail to recognise that this is the moment to think outside of the box, the moment will fade. We need to work together in 2023 to create new political architecture for Europe in the future”, said Majstorovic.

Kosovo: Regarding Kosovo, Fetahu said that Kosovo remained where it was in the 2022 EC Report. “This Report does not show opinion on Kosovo getting candidate status, and we do not know when this will be possible”, said Fetahu.

Montenegro: “We are not doing much work, so we cannot say that we are ‘tired of enlargement’. And there is no dilemma about the Western Balkan’s future – there is no other path except the one of EU membership. But, we need a timely EU reaction to problems in our countries”, assessed Sošić.

The aim of these discussions is to present to the public the key findings of the Commission’s annual reports while highlighting to what extent these converge with the regional think tanks’ assessment of the situation on the ground.

Responsible public administration as the basis of a well-functioning state: Two-day conference in Tirana

A two-day conference on public administration reform (PAR), institutional integrity, accountability, and public trust in institutions was held in Tirana on the 7th and 8th of June, bringing together government officials and civil society from across the Western Balkans.

The conference titled “Pursuing integrity-driven and sustainable public administration reforms in the Western Balkans” was organised by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM, Tirana).

The conference was opened by Oriana Arapi, General Director, Prime Ministry of Albania, Florian Hauser, DG Near, European Commission, Gregor Virant, Head of Program, SIGMA – OECD, and Keida Meta from the Department of Public Administration.

“Governments need to have good people who work in civil service, and they need to make sure that the career of the civil servant is attractive to people,” said Florian Hauser. “If we don’t deliver, if we don’t provide services to citizens and businesses, then we are not relevant anymore. Better public administration works – the country will be more successful”, he added.

Keida Meta highlighted that the digitalisation of services was the top priority of the Albanian government and that they achieved good things here.

Members of civil society reminded the government that without the meaningful participation of civil society (in monitoring, coordination, etc.) there is no good public administration.

The participants then talked about the danger of public administration reform being associated with EU integration and agreed that it is dangerous because that means that reforms happen only because of the EU, but the reforms should be domestically driven and why the sectoral mainstreaming of PAR is of utmost importance.

The second day of the conference was opened by Gjergji Vurmo, Programme Director, IDM, Albania, Adea Pirdeni, Deputy Minister of Justice, Albania, Matilda Shabani, General Director, Ministry of Health and Social Protection, Albania and Petra Burcher, DCM, Head of Development Cooperation, Embassy of Sweden, Albania.

Participants then shared experiences from the implementation of the Integrity Risk Assessment methodology in the central public institutions of Albania, why it is necessary to have a code of ethics in public institutions and why we have to pay attention to administrative leadership, not only to political leadership. Also, representatives from the region talked about their own perspectives on integrity-building experiences in the public administrations of the Western Balkans.

Adea Pirdeni said how the government, by enabling the digitalisation of public services, managed to eliminate corruption on the counters, while Petra Burcher highlighted that integrity builds trust and trust is the core of a well-functioning state.

“Integrity as a concept is not only the integrity of institutions. One of the main reasons for bad implementation is connected to a lack of individual integrity. If we put efforts into this part of integrity, there is more chance to improve institutional integrity”, said Emsad Dizdarević from Transparency International.

The conference is organised within the project of the Western Balkan Civil Society Empowerment for a Reformed Public Administration – WeBER 2.0 regional project and the Serving Democracy and Citizens through Improved Public Integrity project. The WeBER 2.0 project is implemented by the Think for Europe Network (TEN) and is funded by the European Union and other donors. Serving Democracy and Citizens through Improved Public Integrity project is implemented by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation and is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

Watch the event online on the Think for Europe Facebook page.

OPEN LETTER to the Members of the European Parliament regarding the Draft Resolution on the 2021 Commission Report on North Macedonia

The European Policy Institute together with Civil Rights Defenders and the members of the Think For Europe NetworkTEN sent an open letter to the Members of the European Parliament regarding the Draft Resolution on the 2021 Commission Report on North Macedonia.

We urge them to reconsider parts of the Motion for a resolution that are conditions set by Bulgaria that will have negative implications on the Macedonian identity and will endorse the ultimatum that Bulgaria imposed on North Macedonia, using the EU membership as a tool.

If the bilateral issues imposed by Bulgaria enter the accession process, its essence of being a transformative power for the society and the Europeanization process would not only be jeopardised, but would run contrary to the values of the Union.

These are not the values we have believed in. These are not the values we have fought for at home, consistently advocating for EU-accession related reforms.

Read the full letter here.


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).


ONLINE EVENT: Democracy or ‘stabilitocracy’ in the Western Balkans?

This online public forum is co-organised with the Clingendael.

The EU seeks to foster democratisation through its enlargement policy, in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, also known as the Western Balkans Six. 

Despite years of efforts, the EU’s policies have not brought about the expected change. Instead of experiencing decisive democratic reform, the WB6 show signs – to different degrees – of ‘stabilitocracies’: countries with obvious democratic shortcomings that at the same time claim to work towards democratic reform and to offer stability. 

Join our online forum with law makers, policy makers and researchers from both the EU and the Western Balkans. The topics at stake include how the EU is unintentionally contributing to the formation of ‘stabilitocracies’ and what can be done to avoid it.

We will pose several thesis statements to the speakers. The speakers will debate a thesis during a limited amount of time. You can participate through the poll and by asking your question through the online Q&A.


Welcome & introduction of the report The EU as a promoter of democracy or ‘stabilitocracy’ in the Western Balkans?

Giulia Cretti, Junior Researcher, the Clingendael Institute

Debate & poll questions

Maja Kocijančič, Member of Cabinet & Communication Advisor to the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, European Commission
Milena Lazarević, Programme Director, European Policy Centre – CEP, Belgrade
Nikola Dimitrov, Former Foreign and Deputy Prime Minister for European Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, ECFR and BIEPAG member
Roelien Kamminga, Member of Parliament VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), The Netherlands
Geert Luteijn, Lecturer Political Science, University of Amsterdam
Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, Member of European Parliament (The Greens/European Free Alliance – EFA)
Wouter Zweers, (moderator) Research Fellow, the Clingendael Institute

Q&A session


Please register here. The event will be held via Zoom. After registering you will receive an email with a personal link to the webinar room.

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).


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).


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).


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).