New Incentives for the Western Balkans
Participants of the TRAIN programme presented their recommendations for closer ties between EU and Western Balkans
Free access to information, the fight against corruption, imminent export losses—these and other issues were addressed by think tanks from the Western Balkans region in an effort to foster policy dialogue regarding their countries’ EU integration. TRAIN stands for Think Tanks Providing Research and Advice through Interaction and Networking. Seven policy briefs have now been published.
Think tanks play a crucial role in supporting and critically analyzing accession and reform processes in the Western Balkans. Their ideas and findings should not only be exchanged and discussed among expert communities—it is also vital that they are included in policy making and public debates. Against this background, the TRAIN programme seeks to foster a fruitful policy dialogue between think tanks and policy makers in the Western Balkans.
With support from the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office, fourteen policy analysts from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia conducted research on various questions related to the EU integration of the Western Balkans. They then presented their results to decision makers and the public in their respective countries as well as at the EU level.
In its brief, GONG’s Policy Research Center on Good Governance and Participatory Democracy focuses on free access to information in Croatia. The authors see a lack of understanding of free access to information as a corruption prevention mechanism as the underlying problem and point to a number of shortcomings that impede this constitutional right in practice. In order to overcome the “institutional culture of secrecy” that still prevails in the country, Croatia needs to address key issues such as the inadequate definition of key terms in the legislation, the weak authority of the Agency for Personal Data Protection, a lack of resources for implementation, as well as incoherence with other acts of legislation, in particular the Data Secrecy Act.
“An Affair of Animal Welfare—Is Bosnia and Herzegovina willing to keep hurting its economy?” This is the question raised in a policy brief by the Sarajevo-based think tank Populari. With the country’s most important trade partner, Croatia, joining the European Union in 2013, Bosnian meat producers risk losing access to the Croatian market because their country does not comply with EU animal welfare standards. In order to prevent considerable economic losses, the implementation of animal welfare provisions, together with other relevant EU standards, has become a matter of urgency for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The main obstacles identified by the authors include inadequate definitions of the term “animal welfare,” an unclear division of competencies, and an ineffective inspection system. Based on this analysis, Populari spells out recommendations to policy makers and producers to avoid losing out on exports.
The Belgrade-based Institute for Territorial Economic Development (InTER) argues for the necessity of a comprehensive assessment of the impact of EU financial assistance to Serbia. With 3.2 billion euros of non-refundable grants allocated to Serbia between 2000 and 2011, the EU is the country’s largest provider of financial assistance. While the assessment of projects funded under the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) focuses on process monitoring, there is still no mechanism for measuring the impact of aid on Serbia’s progress toward EU accession and socio-economic development. As the authors point out, the introduction of impact assessments would foster further improvements in the use of EU funds.
The business environment in Kosovo is at the center of a policy brief prepared by the Group for Legal and Political Studies (GLPS) from Pristina. The authors focus on the effect of corruption on doing business and identify a number of problems posed by corruption in the public sector for businesses in Kosovo, particularly regarding public procurement, bureaucracy, and the informal economy. Their analysis is followed by a set of recommendations that are deemed essential to creating a sound climate for business in Kosovo, including improving public tendering, reducing the regulatory burden, and integrating informal businesses.
The Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED) from Podgorica looks into the decentralization process in Montenegro, which is still in an early stage. While the constitution recognizes the autonomy of local self-government, municipalities face problems when they take up new administrative and financial responsibilities. In their analysis of the decentralization of education financing, the authors examine the possibility of a gradual transfer of competencies and propose involving municipalities—together with the Ministry of Education and Sports and different donors—in the financing of capital investments for education.
The Skopje-based Centre for Research and Policy Making (CRPM) analyzes the mobility patterns of Macedonian students following visa liberalization, which came into effect in December 2009. While the data collected and analyzed by CRPM show that visa liberalization actually led to an increased number of students traveling to EU member states (due mostly to tourism and visiting relatives), students at Macedonian universities still experience an extremely low level of mobility. The authors identify a lack of information among students, weak incentives created by faculties, a lack of trained public servants, and an unclear distribution of responsibilities among the institutions in charge of mobility programs as factors that have contributed to such low student mobility.
In their joint policy brief, the Center for Democratic Transition (CDT) from Podgorica and the International and Security Affairs Centre (ISAC) from Belgrade focus on the role of civil society in current and upcoming EU accession negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia. The authors examine the extent to which civil society representatives have been included in the negotiating structures in Montenegro since the country started accession negotiations with the EU in June 2012. Based on this analysis, they map out different ways to include civil society in the negotiation process in Montenegro as well as in Serbia, which is still awaiting a green light from the European Council to begin accession talks.
The TRAIN programme accompanied the participating think tank representatives in the development of their policy research and sought to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and best practices. The opening seminar took place in Belgrade in March 2012 with a two-day workshop dedicated to policy paper writing and advocacy. After a three-month research and write-up period, the participants met again in Berlin in June 2012, where they conducted an interim review of their policy research and focused on elaborating communication strategies.
The final seminar in Brussels in October 2012 offered the think tanks an opportunity to present their findings to representatives of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Enlargement, the European External Action Service, and the Western Balkans Working Group at the European Parliament, as well as to a number of Brussels-based policy analysts. The presentation and discussion of research findings then continued at the national level, with participants reaching out to the policy communities in their respective countries during round tables and public debates.
The experience, skills, and contacts acquired during TRAIN 2012 will accompany the participating researchers in their further work and be of use for them in future policy research and cooperation.