For well over a decade the European Union has promoted Good Governance in the Western Balkans as part of its promise to eventually extend membership to states in the region.
The quality of governance is essential for any nation’s economic development and democratic consolidation, arguably reducing public sector corruption and promoting trust in government.
I have recently concluded a research project for SIGMA which studied the professionalization of the civil service in the region, a key component of Good Governance. My report can be found here. I show that the civil service in the Western Balkans provides a mixed picture, with weaknesses notable in terms of low degrees of rule effectiveness and of reform sustainability.
My research shows however that civil servants are, by and large, supportive of the principles of professional management and very positive with regard to de-politicisation and meritocracy. Positive attitudes among civil servants will be an important asset for future reform initiatives.
Civil service reform in the region is however closely associated with signals sent by the EU. During the first half of the 2000s, the Western Balkan states implemented an impressive number of reforms, aiming to catch up with Central and Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. The prospect of EU membership created incentives for politicians and policy-makers in the region to invest in reform despite difficult domestic conditions.
Recent ‘enlargement fatigue’ inside the EU has inevitably therefore undermined many states’ commitment to civil service professionalization. Montenegro is an important exception. The award of candidate status and the promise of opening membership negotiations has re-vitalised civil service reform initiatives there with the help of the international community and close collaboration with SIGMA.
Good Governance will remain high on the EU’s agenda in the Western Balkans in the years to come. However, the effectiveness of the EU’s promotion of Good Governance ultimately depends on it keeping open the prospect of enlargement.