Event announcement: Final WeBER Regional Conference

For the past three years, six Western Balkan think tanks have been exploring public administration reforms (PAR) across the region, providing a civil society perspective. How to demand better administration in the Western Balkans? Why is it important to involve civil society? Why regional approach to improving good governance matters?

We are proud to announce a two-day regional conference to be held on September 25-26, 2018 in Belgrade, where we will have an open discussion on these and many more topics, and present the Regional PAR Monitor Report – one of the key results of our comparative research on monitoring PAR within the WeBER project. A special session will be focused on PAR monitoring by local CSOs, featuring stories from cities and municipalities, where most successful local projects will be presented.

The conference will gather regional stakeholders in the PAR area, among whom the representatives of civil society, government, media, including members of international and regional organisations.

Stay tuned for more information!

Fourth WeBER Researchers’ Workshop

WeBER research team attended the Fourth WeBER Researchers’ Workshop on 29th and 30th May 2018 in Budva, Montenegro.

The WS was hosted and organised by the Institute Alternative (IA), WeBER partner organisation from Podgorica, Montenegro. During both days of the WS, researchers intensively worked on finalising the monitoring process and fine-tuning of the results. One session of the event was dedicated to planning of the First WeBER Regional Conference to be held on 25 – 26 September in Belgrade, where the team effort was employed in order to produce the conference concept and draft agenda. The team concluded the WS by agreeing on detailed plan and schedule of the remaining work, to be implemented in subsequent months.

Interview with Gjergji Vurmo, Programme Director of Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM)

There has been a significant progress in CS involvement in policymaking in Albania, but this still happens just because Brussels wants it and not because our politicians understand its value.

Gjergji Vurmo

Gjergji Vurmo

In the light of progress achieved in Albania and Macedonia in the rule of law area, the European Commission recommended opening negotiations with these two countries in its recent reports. The decision is supposed to be a topic of EU Council meeting in June 2018. What are your opinions and expectation of this Summit? Is Albania ready for accession negotiations with the EU?

Clearly, the EC reports suggested both countries are ready. But I think there is a big fuss about “the opening of accession negotiations” which is partly justified by the “unjustified progress of the negotiations”. This is, in fact, the fear in some member states when they look at the backsliding of democracy in Hungary and Poland.

In the distant or even recent past, some aspects of the negotiations were not properly managed. Benchmarks were unclear and emphasis was placed on the formal part – alignment of legislation on paper – but not in practice. However, this is not an excuse to postpone the opening of accession negotiations but rather to make them (negotiations) more efficient and rigorous. That way, an accessio0n country will continue its reforms in such a structured framework. Additionally, the accession negotiations should come in a context of increased presence and transformative influence from the EU, with rigorous benchmarks and monitoring of the actual implementation. The people in the region want that. The question is whether EU and its member states are ready to assume the responsibilities they claim to have and to exert the transformative power of EU.

IDM has been following Albania’s EU integration process and the related reforms for the past 15 years. How much is civil society involved in the policymaking process in your country? What needs to be done to further enable CSO involvement?

It is still far from an established practice and culture of governance. There has been significant progress but CS involvement is still happening just because Brussels wants it and not because our politicians understand the value of CS involvement and public consultations.

There is no simple answer to the question on how to change that in order to improve CSOs involvement. It is a process that needs to embark on many sectors and to embrace many stakeholders’ efforts. It should start with citizens, who need to show greater trust in the power of civic action and civic engagement. The same holds true for other non-state players. The change has to involve public administration as well. Most importantly – political players and state institutions are the trickiest part. Undemocratic political players (parties) have absolutely no interest to involve the public and civil society. Their excuse is that the citizens voted for them… once in four years… often in manipulated elections. This is where all of us should “hit the system” in order to bring back people’s hope and trust in institutions and rule of law.

The EU has reiterated that new accessions will not happen unless the Western Balkan countries solve their bilateral disputes, demanding a stronger regional cooperation in the upcoming years. In what way can CSOs speed up this process and facilitate reconciliation in the region?

Absolutely, yes. But I still think that bilateral disputes are often hostage of corrupt political elites which make a living out of (stay in power thanks to) such disputes. So yes, CSOs can certainly contribute to reconciliation and regional cooperation but I think we need to work more to build national accountable institutions/players driven by the public interest and democratic values.

IDM is a member of the regional Think for Europe Network (TEN). How do you assess the significance of TEN’s work for the improvement and promotion of regional research? Can the added value of regional CSO networking serve to the WB states as an example of good cooperation?

Research and evidence-based policymaking have been long ignored in our region and in this context, TEN resources and capacities are a great asset for the regional cooperation as much as for the national processes of development reforms and EU accession. The research resources of TEN and those among other regional platforms require more structured support by donors. We often compete in a pan-European environment with a longer history of the building, developing and utilizing of research capacities in the policymaking and other spheres. Despite our success, we still have to catch up in terms of quality but when it comes to the WB region, we’re probably much better positioned in terms of contextual knowledge.

IDM also participates in the regional WeBER Project. Could you share with us the most significant research projects that the IDM is currently implementing in Albania? Which of these topics have a potential and relevance to be analysed on the regional level?

IDM just completed an important study on Religious tolerance in Albania. This is the first baseline assessment that offers evidence and answers to some key questions, such as: What are the foundations of this important value? What makes it possible? How to preserve it and advance it? Additionally, our team is working on the second evaluation of violent extremism phenomenon in Albania, which will update the 2015 datasets and policy recommendations. Both studies may offer significant knowledge and resources for the WB region which has been struggling with various conflicts for a long time.

Finally, IDM is conducting the research for Albania in the framework of a regional initiative on Governance risks for state capture, lead by Partnership for Social Development (Croatia) and other partners in all western Balkan countries. The purpose of the research is to assess corruption and state capture risks in a number of areas such as public procurement, judiciary, law enforcement etc.

*This interview is produced as a part of the sixth issue of the TEN Newsletter.

Substantive dialogue on burning issues still lacking in Montenegro

Montenegro is one of the countries that have made great progress in the EU accession process. Recently published EU Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans has also recognised this fact. Do you agree with this assessment? Would you describe the pace of Montenegro’s negotiating process as satisfactory?

Accolades for the progress, as well as the persistent emphasis on having assumed the “leadership in the region”, fail to motivate the authorities to do more and to do better. They also neither strengthen nor meaningfully include civil society, media and democratic opposition interested in reforms. Citizens are unable to perceive the progress in curbing the entanglement of public and ruling party’s interests, nor in the efforts of dismantling the links with organised crime and corruption at all government levels. Weak and politicised institutions, impunity for the corrupted officials and misuse of public funds, state interference into media market, jeopardizing the independence of public broadcaster feat by the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), hostile actions towards critically oriented CSOs and targeting their leaders – all of these issues are still existent and persistent in Montenegro, Western Balkans EU accession “frontrunner”?

Institute Alternative (IA) is a think tank that has been following the process of EU integration of Montenegro. How has the role of civil society changed in the past 11 years? Is the civil society more included in this process now than it was at its beginning?

Stevo Muk, President of the Managing Board of the Institute Alternative

Stevo Muk, President of the Managing Board of the Institute Alternative

Along the path to European integration, civil society has been adapting to current issues and tasks, building capacities for monitoring complex negotiating chapters. However, although often praised, formal participation of CSOs in negotiating groups has not provided significant contribution nor it has ensured greater influence of CSOs on key documents. Following the adoption of Negotiating Positions, the negotiating groups have mainly turned passive. Numerous negotiating groups have not met in years, and it was only last year when the measures for 17 negotiating chapters were published on the CSO’s request.  The exception are the meetings of the Negotiating Group for the Chapter 23, whereas there is an obligation of delivering semi-annual reports on the action plans implementation. However, the substantive dialogue on burning issues is still lacking. Key discussions are held outside negotiating groups, within the processes of drafting concrete laws and strategies, but also via public and other types of discussion between the government and civil society.

What are the biggest challenges that civil society in Montenegro has faced since the beginning of the EU integration process? What obstacles has your organisation been forced to overcome?

Critically-oriented CSOs and independent media provide a key incentive and contribution to reforms in the areas of rule of law, anti-corruption and public administration reform. At the same time, we are confronted with different types of resistance and the pressure coming from those who do not benefit from the reform process – from unwillingness of the state to support our efforts as legitimate, to disputing and discrediting by various means. In spite of everything, we keep on striving to offer our full contribution in various fora where a dialogue on the quality of laws and policies adopted by the Government and in the Parliament are being conducted. We are exerting influence by placing important topics on the media’s agenda, thus ensuring public dialogue is held on them.

IA is a member of the regional Think for Europe Network (TEN) and one of the key partners in the regional WeBER Project. What are current WeBER Project activities being implemented in Montenegro?

At the moment, we are focused on completing research for the regional PAR Monitor. It is a very demanding task, as we have set high standards with our PAR Monitor Methodology, and now we are combining multiple research methods – surveys (public perception survey, surveys for civil servants and civil society representatives), focus groups, interviews, FOI requests, desk research – to obtain answers to the questions that measure the real extent of the public administration reform  process.

Additionally, our grantees are finalising their projects, providing an insight into developments of public administration reform at the local level.

What are the most significant ongoing projects Institute Alternative is implementing? What subject are those projects focused on and why those particular subjects?

Our key initiatives are focused on the public administration reform process in Montenegro, as well as on one of its key component – Public Finance Management Reform Programme. We are trying to clarify what way the mechanisms for managing public money are being reformed, if at all, and, at the same time, raise awareness of the Government commitments among the public.

We are increasingly cooperating with other CSOs in the country, seeking to garner interests in these topics, traditionally not in the focus of CSOs, as well as with the investigative journalists, trying to come up with a way of communicating our findings and the results obtained, as well as policy work, in a way that would appeal to the general public and interest the citizens.

*This interview is produced as a part of the fifth issue of the TEN Newsletter.

Advocacy meetings for better benchmarking mechanisms

In the period 20-21 March 2018, the representatives of European Policy Institute (EPI) from Skopje, Institute Alternative (IA) from Podgorica and Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI BH) from Sarajevo visited The Hague, Netherlands in order to conduct advocacy meetings with representatives of civil society, academia and the Dutch government. The aim of the advocacy meetings was to present the key finding and recommendations of the analysis of benchmarking mechanism in the Western Balkan countries (BENCHER project) and gain an understanding into the Dutch perception of the enlargement process.

The team met with Michiel Luining, lecturer at the Leiden University, representatives of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), freelance journalist Joost van Egmond, Emine Bozkurt, Member of the European Parliament and representatives of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) as well as with the representatives of the Dutch Parliament House of Representatives and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Promotion of Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Is BiH Prepared to Open Negotiations with the EU?

Foreign Policy Initiative BH organized a panel discussion “Promotion of Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Is BiH Prepared to Open Negotiations with the EU?” in Sarajevo on March 29th. The event was organized as part of the regional project implemented within Think for Europe Network“Benchmarking for EU Reform- How Effective? BENCHER”.

The event panelists, Nedžma Džananović-Miraščija from the Faculty of Political Science of Sarajevo University, Inela Hadžimešić, from the Initiative for Monitoring of EU Integrations and  Lejla Ramić-Mesihović, Director of Foreign Policy Initiative BH  highlighted the importance of more credible reform processes within the rule of law in order for BiH to progress in the EU integration process.

Lejla Ramić-Mesihović presented the key conclusions and recommendations of the country analysis for BiH done as part of the project, the title of which indicates that the next steps in the EU integration process will lead to the “masks falling off” and that the relevant institutions will have to be more accountable. The panelists agreed that the involvement of the civil society and the expert academia is necessary in order to widen the discourse on these topics, exert pressure and monitor the work of the institutions and that the reforms cannot be only declarative.

Highlighting the regional aspect of the project, it was underlined that the problems BiH faces are not unique and that they are shared by majority of the Western Balkan countries, which is why the approach of the international community and the European Union in developing of benchmarks and conditionality need to take into account such circumstances in order to be more effective.

During the discussion, the importance of joint activities by all stakeholder involved in the process in order to support the reform processes was pointed out. The event was attended by representatives of institutions, political parties, civil society organizations and international institutions.

The project is financed by the European Fund for the Western Balkans and Open Society Fund.

Concretization of the EU Integration Process: Masks Will Fall Off (Benchmarking in BiH)

Reforming from the Bench-Marking Offside (regional analysis)

Rule of law – EU accession’s Achilles heel

On March 29 at EU House in Tirana, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) organized a roundtable discussion on the topic “Rule of law – EU accession’s Achilles heel”. The focus of this event was to discuss the findings of the Albanian benchmarking analysis in the frame of the project ‘Benchmarking for EU Reform – How effective? implemented by the Think for Europe Network members, and financed by the European Fund for the Balkans.

More precisely, this event gathered experts, government and civil society representatives, opinion-makers and other stakeholders to discuss:

  • Challenges of EU’s conditionality and its transformative power
  • The interplay and synergies between the accession and rule of law reforms
  • The way forward for Albania in the light of EC’s Flagship initiatives.

In addition, the panellists also shared their views regarding Albania’s position vis-a-vis the EU Enlargement Strategy, with a particular focus on the reforms needed in the upcoming years. At the beginning of the discussion, IDM representative, Gjergji Vurmo talked about the Challenges of EU’s transformative power, the importance of rule of law in Albania, and the significant role that EU conditionality has on implementing reforms in Albania. Following his remarks, Ms Artela Mitrushi presented the country analysis entitled ‘Bencher-(In)Effectiveness of EC Monitoring Mechanisms’. This analysis assesses the effectiveness of the EU’s benchmarking system on selected policy issues pertaining to ‘fundamentals first’. This analysis also puts forward a set of recommendations on how to improve the benchmarking mechanism of the conditionality policy.

The roundtable is part of the Think and Link Regional Policy Programme, supported by the European Fund for the Balkans and Open Society Institute, under the umbrella of Think for Europe Network (TEN).


  • Aldo Bumci, MP – Parliamentary Committee of European Integration
  • Rafaella Campanati, First Secretary – Italian Embassy in Tirana
  • Afrim Krasniqi, Executive Director of Albanian Institute for Political Studies – ISP
  • Besar Likmeta, Editor for BIRN Albania

Click to download relevant publications:

TEN advocates for promoting and enforcing rule of law in the Balkans

March 21, 2018 – Today in Brussels, the Think of Europe Network and the European Policy Centre (EPC Brussels) co-hosted a policy dialogue event titled Marking the benchmark: Promoting and enforcing rule of law in the Balkans. Distinguished speakers were Sabine Zwaenepoel, Chapter co-ordinator at the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), Tanja Fajon, Member of European ParliamentSrđan Majstorović, Chairman of European Policy Centre (CEP Belgrade) Governing Board, Corina Stratulat, Senior Policy Analyst at the EPC and Albana Rexha, Research Fellow at the Group for Legal and Political Studies (GLPS Kosovo).

Drawing on the results of the BENCHER regional comparative study, discussion focused on the EU’s role in helping the Western Balkan countries to achieve progress in rule of law reforms, particularly through the required track record of democratic conditionality in practice.

Ms Albana Rexha presented the findings of the regional BENCHER research project, implemented by Think for Europe Network. The research focused on the effectiveness of the EU’s benchmarking mechanism for the Western Balkans within the negotiating Chapters 23 and 24. The BENCHER sought to explain mixed results in the EU’s attempt to induce compliance, exploring whether the Union is more successful in some sub-policy areas than in others, and why, and aiming to contribute to strengthening the benchmarking as an impetus for EU-related reforms in the WB countries.  Despite the EU’s firm insistence on democratic reforms, findings showed that all countries had been backsliding.

Mr Srđan Majstorović stated that the European Commission had made an extremely difficult and important step forward when it comes to communicating a credible enlargement policy. Talking about the importance of involving citizens in the EU enlargement process, he added that “there should be a fourth pillar in the enlargement policy – and that is the inclusion of citizens and civil society”.

Ms Tanja Fajon warned that „visa liberalization was a tangible result for Western Balkans citizens, but the change in rule of law is not.“ She also pointed out that EU benchmarking mechanisms are too technical and too distant to the citizens. „People in the Western Balkans want change, but this issue should be communicated in a different manner“, Ms Fajon concluded.

Since its 2011 enlargement strategy, the European Commission has adopted a more rigorous approach to democratic conditionality, building mostly on lessons learned from its eastward expansion. The EU’s increased focus on ‘good governance’ criteria (such as the rule of law, independent judiciary, media freedom and efficient public administration) was formally reflected for the first time in the negotiation frameworks for Montenegro and Serbia, which require that Chapter 23 (on the Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and Chapter 24 (on Justice, Freedom and Security) are opened in the early stages of the talks and closed only at the very end of the process, and that overall progress is conditioned by progress in these fields.

Ms Sabine Zwaenepoel reminded the audience that the Commission had been investing continuous efforts in communicating to the candidates what the rule of law concept should entail. In her view, „Chapters 23 and 24 offer tools to make sure rule of law in Western Balkans is respected” and there is no doubt what is meant by that.

The BENCHER project was conducted with the kind support of European Fund for the Balkans (EFB) and the Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE). The project was implemented by Think for Europe Network (TEN) members and coordinated by European Policy Initiative – EPI from Skopje, Macedonia.

Studies conducted within the BENCHER project can be found here.

*Take a look at the Brussels Times’ text: EU benchmarks for Western Balkans: Political will missing*

Civil Society and Policy Making in the Visegrad Group Countries: Lessons for the Western Balkans

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.

This study is funded by Visegrad Fund.


Challenges for Public Administration Reform (PAR) in Serbia: Key Findings of the 2017 SIGMA Monitoring Report

On 13 March 2018, SIGMA/OECD organised a workshop Challenges for Public Administration Reform (PAR) in Serbia: Key Findings of the 2017 SIGMA Monitoring Report in Hotel Metropol, Belgrade.

The event was organised in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government of the Republic of Serbia (MPALSG), and it brought together senior officials from various Government bodies, independent institutions and civil society organisations (CSO) and donors, as well as representatives from the European Commission and EU Delegation to discuss the current challenges and priorities of PAR implementation in Serbia. The main findings and recommendations of the SIGMA 2017 Monitoring Report for Serbia were presented and discussed.

Introductory remarks about priorities and challenges of PAR implementation in Serbia and its importance in the EU enlargement were given by mr Branko Ružić, Minister of the Public Administration and Local Self-Government, ms Jelena Stojović, from the Ministry of Finance, H.E. Sem Fabrizi, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia.

Milos Đinđić, WeBER Lead Researcher, presented the first results and findings of the regional PAR monitoring being conducted within the WeBER Project. Presentation of the first findings of the monitoring took place within the panel on involvement of CSO in PAR in Serbia. Representatives of CSO members of the WeBER Platform and National PAR Working Group (NWG) in Serbia, as well as organisations grantees of the WeBER Project from Serbia, participated in the event.

First results of the WeBER PAR monitoring available here.