Enhancing Policy making in the Western Balkans

Enhancing Policy making in the Western Balkans

A School of Public affairs programme for young civil servants
  • © Sciences Po - 2018 cohort © Sciences Po - 2018 cohort

For the third year, Sciences Po School of Public Affairs hosts from the 3rd to the 14th of December, 2018, a delegation of 30 young civil servants from six countries of the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Republic of Macedonia and Serbia.

This executive training, the "EU Scheme for Young Professionals in the Western Balkans", takes place in the context of the Berlin process and in the framework of the European Union’s Connectivity Agenda for the Western Balkans. 

It aims to contribute accelerating the accession process and to deepen regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. Its main intention is to bring updated insights about EU policy making and best practices for administration reforms and cooperation process, connecting the participants with the key actors of those fields, both among European and international organisations and national administration and Parliament.

What could be expected of such a transnational training programme? Answers with Pierre Mirel, Director Western Balkans at the European Commission from 2006 to 2013), who has met with the participants. 

What is the current state of relations between the European Union and the Western Balkans?

PM : Looking at a map is striking: Western Balkan countries are an enclave in Europe, surrounded by member states. Their stability is therefore part of our security. That was precisely the purpose of the Stabilisation and Association Process, with membership perspective, offered by the EU after the Balkans wars and agreed at the Thessaloniki summit in 2003. 15 years later, only Croatia has joined the EU. Montenegro and Serbia are engaged in accession negotiations, which should be opened also with Albania and Macedonia in 2019. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are in an early pre accession phase, the latter even not recognised by 5 member states. 

Their economic integration with the EU is at 70%, thanks to the Association agreements. But the overall socio economic development is weak, with high unemployment and a brain as well as skilled workers drain on the rise. The continued weakness of the rule of law, widespread corruption and the lack of effective checks and balances, including by the parliaments and the media, concur to a disillusionment of citizens. This situation, as portrayed by the European commission in a communication on 6 February 2018, entails the risk of external destabilising influences; unresolved bilateral issues and minority’s claims offering additional opportunities. Hence the re engagement of the EU at the Sofia summit in May, along the European commission proposed six flagship initiatives and building on the Berlin process.

What has the Berlin process already achieved?

PM : Launched in 2014 by Chancellor Merkel, the Berlin process initially focussed on ‘connectivity’ in transport and energy, badly needed in the WB and also as a response to increasing investments from China and Russia. A multi annual Action plan for a Regional Economic Area was afterwards agreed at the Trieste summit in 2017. The necessary involvement of civil society and of solving bilateral issues quietly was emphasised at the Vienna summit in 2015. The Paris one in 2016 focussed on Youth exchange. At all these meetings, rule of law related reforms were the overarching principle, not least for an investment climate conducive to economic growth.

These agreements were encompassed in the six flagship initiatives, endorsed at Sofia and by the June European Council, on the rule of law, security and migration, good neighbourly relations and reconciliation, connectivity, socio-economic development and digital agenda. So, the WB have now a clear reform and investment programme, with the reinforced support of the EU. The next summit, scheduled in Poland in July 2019, will take stock of the progress.

What does such a group of civil servants look for in this EU focussed programme?

This group is at Sciences Po as part of a three-year pilot programme for young professionals in the WB, which was decided at the Paris summit in 2016. This is the third edition. Its objective was two-fold: to introduce tools and policies useful in their work in the EU accession context, and to get acquainted with best practices from France and other European countries. The focus is therefore on EU accession related reforms, such as public administration, financial planning and sustainability, internal security and ecological transition. The training methods aim also at developing negotiation and communication skills, notably through role plays. Discussions with practitioners, including through visits, constitute also an important part of the programme.

Which main outcomes can be expected?

A direct outcome would be to have a much better understanding of what EU related reforms and EU membership entail for the governments and civil servants, and to introduce new working methods in their work back home. In that context, lessons from previous accessions and current issues impacting the process, on both the EU and WB sides, are essential.

Another expected outcome is to contribute to mutual understanding between these young civil servants who, in spite of sharing identical tasks in the context of similar accession paths, come from countries where deep nationalist rhetoric, or blame game with neighbours, are often used, which tend to reinforce old prejudices. By being together for several weeks, participating in role plays and sharing common countries accession issues, should help them developing good personal relations indeed. It is hoped that this should facilitate direct contacts in their career, in particular when their countries may be faced with difficult relationship. This is, I am convinced, the most important outcome of the programme.

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