Yesterday, at the European Policy Centre – EPC Brussels premises, EU WeBER PAR Monitor 2021/2022 results were presented at the closed-door round table organised and delivered by our partner, EPC Brussels.
Western Balkan countries have been pursuing EU membership for years, and this path has often proved to be as challenging as ever. Within the entire package of conditions that need to be met before the eventual accession, public administration reform was and is one of the multi-faceted but fundamental areas of intervention but with still suboptimal progress. It is drawing the attention of the EU Commission and domestic civil society in these countries alike. The expectance is that the increased external pressures will bring the region closer to the EU and to human-facing public administrations, making lives and livelihoods easier in dealing with the bureaucracy.
Since 2015, the WeBER has monitored the progress in the public administration reform in countries of the Western Balkans and has opened the public space for more dialogue on the need for citizen-oriented administrative apparatus. Moreover, it has increasingly involved citizens in deliberations on their experience dealing with central state authorities and service providers.
The revised enlargement methodology of 2020 set out to instil new dynamics into the accession process for the Western Balkans and restore the process’s credibility. In that context, it promised, among other things, to increase the use of third-party indicators in the Commission’s assessments – a promise which has not been fulfilled to date. One such third party is the region’s civil society, which has, over the past years, developed and implemented several independent, evidence-based reform monitoring initiatives, offering ample data for the Commission to use and reference in its reports. The event included a presentation of a policy brief which makes a case for the utilisation of the findings produced by such initiatives, as they can greatly contribute to the quality and credibility of the Commission’s reports and strengthen the civil society’s impact in the EU accession process.
Miloš Đinđić, Julijana Karai and Alban Dafa presented the monitoring results from the Accountability and Public Finance Management areas at the event.
- Practices related to Transparency and Accessibility of the Budgets of the WB countries were presented, highlighting good aspects and shortcomings. The results per country mainly remain the same, with the exception of North Macedonia, where the results have decreased since the last monitoring cycle. There is no progress when it comes to this aspect. The participants discussed the causes of stagnation and different incentives which can be used to push governments to improve their transparency (DG NEAR Kloe)
- SAI External Communications and Engagements towards the public and different stakeholders have been one of the highest-scoring areas, and the practices of SAIs in each country have been improving throughout the years. Results in each country are high. In some countries, SAIs cooperate with CSOs and listen to their suggestions on how to improve the practice of SAI. Kloe from DG NEAR suggested that cases in which SAI audit findings led to a change in policy.
- The aspect of Proactive Transparency was focused on the case study of 7 central administration bodies in each WB country, accessed based on several criteria. The conclusion of this monitoring cycle is that even when the information published by the institutions is complete, up-to-date and easily accessible, it is still often bureaucratic and not really citizen-friendly. The critical area when it comes to proactive transparency is budget and activity reports, and chronic issues in all WB countries have remained the same since 2018, with results in this area remaining very low. Corina suggested that the results from different cycles may not be comparable since new practices are introduced.
Milena Lazarević, Programme Director of CEP and Team Leader of WeBER 2.0 presented a paper which focused on different tools developed by CSOs which can be utilised to follow the reform in the Accession Process. The paper pointed out certain problems of the European Commission’s reporting approach, such as the lack of citations and quotes of third-party indicators, which compromises the transparency of the report. CSOs have been cooperating with the Commission in the process of developing the country reports and providing written inputs for the enlargement package, but their contributions are not referenced. Good examples of regional and national initiatives developed by the CSOs, which have a big potential for dissemination, have been presented in the paper. These initiatives include indicators which allow following the situation in different areas of society and can be useful to the Commission. Recommendations have also been presented in order to resolve the issues which persist when it comes to Commission’s reporting approach.
Sandra Laquelle, Chloe Berger and Florian Hauser from DG NEAR discussed the findings of the paper.