On request of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Daniela Mineva, Research Fellow of the Economic Programme at the Centre for the Study of Democracy (Sofia, Bulgaria), Coordinating Institution for the SELDI Anti-Corruption Coalition, prepared an essay as a follow-up of the SELDI workshop on 14 June 2016:
In the past ten years, both the nature of corruption and the anti-corruption agenda in Southeast Europe have changed. Political corruption has replaced petty bribery both as the dominant concern of national and international reformists and as one of the leading causes for most social and economic damage. The earlier emphasis on harmonising national legislation with international standards has now been substituted by a focus on its enforcement. The past year in particular has vividly exposed governance vulnerabilities in Southeast Europe and how they threaten to undermine the region’s European perspective. The migration crisis, the economic stagnation, and the Russia-EU geopolitical stand-off have shown the need to reinvigorate the European Union’s engagement with the region. A critical part of this engagement remains the need to reduce corruption and state-capture vulnerabilities in Southeast Europe, especially in the energy sector.
In 2012, the European Commission adopted a new enlargement approach, which placed rule of law, anti-corruption, and judicial reform at the heart of the process. To respond to the new EU policy priorities, the Southeast European Leadership for Development and Integrity (SELDI) Coalition has developed and implemented a civil-society-led approach to monitoring and tackling corruption in the region, which provides policy makers with important insights. The SELDI initiative aims to draw an accurate picture of the corruption environment in the region, present the latest data on corruption pressure, and introduce new ways for improving anti-corruption efforts.
Having good laws and institutions are necessary first steps, however, they need to be accompanied by political will and change of mentality. The countries from Southeast Europe need to focus not only on the fight against corruption but on making institutions efficient. It is important to create a new generation educated in democratic values. Anti-corruption education is underestimated and should start at the school level. People should not believe in the populistic propaganda, which makes the EU integration process even slower, as it is the case with Macedonia. It is encouraging that most people from the region see corruption as a problem and still recognise the need for an EU support, despite the delay in the EU enlargement. Furthermore, the EU accession process is a key to removing the county-level monopolies, increasing the economic prosperity, and lowering the administrative barriers to free trade and business.
The Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) as well as the new approach of opening chapters 23 and 24 earlier in accession negotiations have the potential to push the necessary long-term reforms, beyond the term of a single government. Countries need to have real anti-corruption mechanisms that stand the test and are systematically used to expose illegal wealth. Lately, however, countries have started to embrace soft preventive tools, while effective enforcement is missing.
The civil society, if not controlled by government, private interests, or radical movements, could have a central role in monitoring reforms and applying political pressure for change. Additional strong driver of reforms can present the cross-border and regional coalition building, bringing best practices, external expertise and views from lawyers, economists, sociologists.