Welcome letter to second RAD seminar in 2015

It gives me a great pleasure to welcome you to this seminar on “Local democracy in the Western Balkans”, the second one in the third Regional Academy for Democracy cycle on “Building Democratic Institutions”. Once again, I feel honoured to learn and share experiences with you.

Good governance was the core topic of our first seminar. It is equally important at the local level, the first and most natural level for effective democracy. A lot has been achieved in the Western Balkans for re-defining the various levels of government. However, the delineation of powers and responsibilities is not always clear and fiscal autonomy remains limited in some cases. Moreover, where decentralisation was conceived as a solution to ethnic tensions, it has reinforced ethnic divide too often.

Beyond the need to ensure effective citizens representation through free and fair elections, local authorities have to respect and enforce the following core principles: transparency, accountability, participation and inclusion.

Transparency should be guaranteed in local decision-making and in financial management in the first place. This is all the more important in view of the EU funds which regions and municipalities will manage after accession. Waste management or pollution emissions reduction will require heavy financing indeed, based on transparent decisions. Accountability should be the motto of elected bodies. According to the 2015 SELDI report[1], it does not seem to be the case to-day, as ‘administrative corruption’ has become a ‘mass phenomenon’, notably through public procurement, concessions and construction permits.

These core principles can best be respected through a strong citizen’s participation to the decision-making. Elected people and local administration’s duty is to provide services in a fair, transparent and non-discrimination manner. Major efforts are to be made for ensuring inclusion of all groups, Roma in the first place, and the full respect of minorities’ rights. However, local administrations capacity remain weak with limited skills for their service delivery. This weakness will hamper EU funds absorption if not addressed in time.

The role of local media and civil society organisations is essential for the respect of transparency and accountability and for encouraging citizen’s participation. They contribute usefully to the ‘checks and balances’, without which democratic and economic transition cannot be successful. They also fill the gap between elected bodies and the population in a period of time when many citizens are disillusioned with politics and the representative system. This is to say that all the good principles of the other three seminars apply equally at the local level.

A number of you have positions in local bodies. Others can influence their political parties’ attitude. You therefore bear responsibility for contributing to building democratic institutions at the local level through the implementation of the above mentioned principles, thereby facilitating EU accession. I wish you a successful seminar!

[1] “Anti-corruption reloaded”, a report from the Southeast Europe Leadership for Development and Integrity Initiative, SELDI, an association of Western Balkans NGOs.