On 24 and 25 February 2015SELDI presented the key findings and policy recommendations from the first two years of the initiative in Brussels. The conclusions from the SELDI Regional Anti-Corruption Report: Anti-Corruption Reloaded: Assessment of Southeast Europe were discussed with representatives of the civil society, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. Given the major significance of the good governance and anti-corruption issue in Southeast Europe and the prospects of the countries from the region of joining the EU, the event aimed to contribute to promoting the civil society - state dialogue in identifying effective counter-measures and possibilities for future collaboration among all stakeholders. The forum charted the needed governance reforms to prepare the countries for accession once the enlargement freeze of the EU is lifted.
Dr. Alexander Stoyanov, Director of Research at the Center for the Study of Democracy, welcomed the participants at the policy forum and briefly discussed the history and main objectives of the SELDI initiative, including the first SELDI action, implemented in 2001 in the region of Southeast Europe (SEE). According to Dr. Stoyanov, the latest Regional Corruption Assessment Report (RAR) is empowering the civil society sector to participate in the policy-making process by providing valuable anti-corruption arguments and policy recommendations. He noted that anti-corruption should be practical activity, based on mutual understanding and cooperation between civil society organisaitons (CSOs) and governmental institutions. Dr. Stoyanov highlighted the main results and indicators of the research activities implemented in the SEE countries during the first two years of the SLEDI initiative.
Dr. Hansjörg Brey, Executive Director of the Southeast Europe Association and Member of the SELDI International Advisory Board moderated the discussion. Dr. Andrey Kovachev, Member of the European Parliament, Committee on Foreign Affairs provided introductory remarks, highlighting the importance of anti-corruption and good governance, and particularly their relevance to political independence, free media and overall transparency. Dr. Kovachev praised the work of the SELDI network and the quality of the Regional Anti-corruption report, which is employing not only perception-based approach but is also focusing on the actual participation in corruption practices. According to Dr. Kovachev, asset confiscation from corruption cases could be an important contribution to the fight against corruption.
Mr. Ruslan Stefanov, Coordinator of the Southeast Europe Leadership for Development and Integrity (SELDI) initiative, Center for the Study of Democracy, presented the main findings, conclusions, policy and practical recommendations of the RAR, underlining the importance of the collaboration between CSOs and governmental actors at the local level. Mr. Stefanov briefly examined the Corruption Monitoring System (CMS), focusing on the corruption victimization indicators. The data demonstrates that although the corruption dynamics vary across the Western Balkans and Turkey, all countries continue to experience considerable corruption problems.
The citizens of Southeast Europe prove to be highly aware of the social phenomenon. Corruption pressure exercised on the part of the national administrations is particularly challenging. Mr. Stefanov described the role of civil society as essential for improving governance in the region but also cautioned that CMS data shows the sector is continuously failing to effectively tackle the corruption phenomenon. This has lowered the trust in CSOs as society is increasingly starting to perceive the sector to be corrupt. Therefore, additional transparency on the part of the CSOs is needed in pursue of increased credibility.
The activities of the SELDI coalition are based on three major pillars: awareness, monitoring and advocacy. In this context, Mr. Stefanov outlined the three critical recommendations of the report Anti-Corruption Reloaded: Assessment of Southeast Europe:
• Deliver an effective prosecution of high-level corruption - sentencing of corrupt top echelon public officials and politicians provides a strong incentive and has proven very effective in strengthening anticorruption measures.
• Adopt an independent corruption and anti-corruption monitoring mechanism - instruments should be implemented through national and/or regional civil society network(s), and be independent of direct national government funding. Such initiatives should serve as a vehicle for opening up administrative data collection and public access to information.
• Anti-corruption efforts should be focused on critical sectors – including energy, public procurement, corporate governance of state owned enterprises, large-scale investment projects.
Mr. Morten Jung, Head of Unit, Western Balkans Regional Cooperation and Programming, DG Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, European Commission, discussed the European Commission’s instruments for delivering good governance solutions in Southeast Europe. Rule of law was identified as the underlying factor towards EU accession. According to Mr. Jung, the Union acknowledges that it is not a corruption-free area and has started to address the challenge accordingly, integrating the fight against corruption across the majority of EU policy areas. Corruption is neither solely political, nor simply a moral issue, but a practical problem generating significant financial loses and enabling organized crime. Thus the European Commission is continuously working to adopt innovative tools and approaches in pursue of strengthening the good governance in the region.
Mr. Radu Cotici, Head of Secretariat, Regional Anticorruption Initiative, presented the Southeast Europe 2020 Strategy, as an instrument for regional cooperation for good governance. Concentrating on growth, while mirroring the EU 2020 Strategy, the initiative is designed to specifically suit the SEE regional characteristics. The SEE 2020 Strategy is based on five pillars, among which is the “Governance for Growth“ pillar, targeting effective public services and anti-corruption, and focusing on the effect of anticorruption and hidden economy for facilitating environment for growth. Anti-corruption measures include, among others, enforcing political will and commitment; transparency to increase effectiveness; prevention, mainly in the form of trainings; and involvement of civil society. The SEE2020 anti-corruption targets focus on transparent rules, competitive procedures, public awareness, revision and control, and on building capacities of anti-corruption agencies.
Dr. Doris Pack, Member of the SELDI International Advisory Board, put the enlargement process and the integration of the Western Balkans into a different perspective. Dr. Pack urged the participants to have a closer look into the details of corruption, specifically with regard to the judicial systems and rule of law, and the existing networks between politicians, business and media. Education is another sector where corruption is often rampant. Dr. Pack highlighted the lack of integrity of some non-governmental organisations, which sole aim is to absorb EU funding. In this context, she noted that financing must be allocated properly and purposefully. Practical approach on the ground is also essential prerequisite for impact and effective action against corruption.
Ms. Daniela Mineva, Coordinator, Southeast European Leadership for Development and Integrity, moderated the second session of the SELDI policy forum, which focused on opportunities for synergy and cooperation among civil society stakeholders. Mr. Henk Visser, Justice and Home Affairs - Western Balkans and Turkey, Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiation, European Commission once again touched upon the importance of trust and integrity in the work of the civil society sector. According to Mr. Visser, the role of CSOs must be based on credibility, ensuring all products are evidence-based and of high standard. The role of the civil society organisations is to inform and educate, monitor and expose, advocate and advise.
Mr. Garret Tankosic-Kelly, Principal, South-East Europe Change Net presented the activities and results of the work of the network. According to him, CSOs should improve their capacity for collaboration both internally within the sector and with related governmental and EU institutions. The later, on the other hand, should be more focused and consistent in their work and programme priorities. Independent judiciary was described as the underlying ingredient for an effective anti-corruption action. Mr. Kelly provided examples of numerous corruption-related cases from the Western Balkans region, specifically in the energy and mining sectors.
According to Mr. Miodrag Milosavljevic, Program Coordinator, Transparency, Accountability and Public Integrity, Open Society Foundation - Serbia, there is no integrity culture to curb anti-corruption. Favouritism exists as proposals by civil society are largely neglected if put forward by NGOs with no connections to certain political class. According to Mr. Milosavljevic, there are generally three types of strategies adopted by the civil society organisations, which choose to support the governmental agenda - to exclusively oppose it, to take the middle ground, or to collaborate with selected public institutions. The project “Transparency, Accountability and Public Integrity” has chosen the latter, identifying institutions with high integrity to work with.
Ms. Tinatin Ninua, Department: Regional Work: Europe & Central Asia, Transparency International, Berlin, presented an initiative aiming to improve the knowledge and capacity for monitoring anti-corruption, and enhance regional cooperation between CSOs and governmental institutions. The project utilizes national integrity system methodology in seven countries. The activity includes producing of national reports, and it is currently developing methodology for tracking corruption, which would monitor the implementation of the national report`s recommendations. Whistleblower protection is planned as additional focus of the research.
Ms. Sonja Stefanovska-Trajanoska, Programme Analyst, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) office, FYR of Macedonia, presented the UNDP`s work on good governance in the SEE region. The main areas of intervention of the UNDP in SEE focus on policy development, promotion of transparency and accountability, and awareness of civil society and citizens. According to Ms. Stefanovska-Trajanoska the use of open data and social media could make a difference in the fight against corruption.
Mr. Mark Worth, Project Manager, International Whistleblower Project, Blueprint for Free Speech, presented his work in the area of whistleblower protection. According to Mr. Worth, the laws to protect whistleblowers are a good example of constructive collaboration between civil society and governmental organisations. Being a relatively new domain, whistleblower legislation is largely consulted with the non-governmental sector. The region of Southeast Europe is by far the most active region to introduce or improve related legislation.