The countries of Southeastern Europe (SEE) have come a long way in their anti-corruption development in the past two decades, building a lot of the formal institutions necessary for ensuring democratic checks and balances. Yet, state capture practices continue to plague the region. The convergence of business and politics, the use of public institutions as repression tools, and the accumulation of vast illicit wealth of politically exposed persons result in long-term risks to democratic resilience.
The policy forum held on 25 January 2023 in Belgrade discussed how the anti-corruption resolve in SEE could be restored, how public-private partnerships could support legal and procedural reforms, and what are the lessons learnt for the EU member states and EU candidates. Among the keynote speakers and panelists were Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, Member of the European Parliament, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance; Krum Zarkov, Minister of Justice of Bulgaria, Daniel Freund, Member of the European Parliament, Group of the Greens/Europe Free Alliance, Ambassador Jørn Eugene Gjelstad, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade, Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, United States Embassy in Belgrade, and Tanja Miščević, Ministry of European Integration of the Republic of Serbia.
Members of the Regional Good Governance Public-Private Partnership Platform (R2G4P) presented the second SEE Good Governance Report which focuses on the legal and procedural gaps that prevent asset declarations from becoming efficient corruption and illicit enrichment prevention tool. The analysis further reveals that politically connected firms hold 5% of the SEE’s procurement contracts’ volume share.
The panelists agreed that the expertise of civil society is crucial for achieving reforms and that its involvement in decision-making would help regain the trust of the citizens in public institutions. A prominent example of public-private partnership presents the MACPI (Monitoring Anticorruption Policy Implementation) tool, currently implemented in nine SEE countries. MACPI’s findings will support drafting the future anti-corruption plan and awareness campaign in the city of Kragujevac. The participants also noted that Russia’s war in Ukraine exposed the gravity of foreign malign influence in the region. However, at the same time, it renewed the momentum for EU enlargement and action in tackling state capture and concentration of power. Experts from Ukraine noted that the anti-corruption reforms, initiated before the war, are continuing despite the challenging conditions, due to the existing political will, strong civil society, and international support. In conclusion, the speakers underlined that EU accession could only be achieved in countries with functioning democracies, an independent judiciary, and media. They also urged all stakeholders to break the complacency towards corruption by devising and implementing concrete actions during initiatives such as the Summit for Democracy.