SELDI’s member, Centre for Contemporary Politics, held a policy briefing for the EU Delegation in Serbia, DG NEAR and embassies on 5 April 2022. During the briefing, the Center for the Study of Democracy presented the key objectives of the SELDI initiative, as well as the regional results of SELDI’s Corruption Monitoring System for 2021. According to the data, the anti-corruption progress achieved in the Western Balkans between the early 2000s and mid-2010s has now been halted or even reversed. While there have been minor improvements in 2021 in some countries compared to the 2019 levels, experience-based indicators show higher levels of corruption involvement and pressure than in 2014/2016. Serbia showcases most strikingly this trend, since the good results achieved in the early 2000s were reversed in the last years.
Self-reported involvement in corruption in the Western Balkans remains very high – between 20% and 40% of the citizens admit to having paid some kind of a bribe and to expect to be asked for a bribe. A partial positive result concerns the tolerance of corruption, which experienced a decline in almost every country despite still ranging high between 25% and 40%. The public trust in policy responses to corruption has declined over time (except in Serbia). The 2020 State Capture Assessment Diagnostics (SCAD) results further show how the Western Balkans countries are face major challenges, including institutional vulnerability, ineffectiveness of anti-corruption policies and a lack of impartiality and transparency.
The Centre for Contemporary Politics underlined that while Serbia seems to rank relatively well in the CMS, a number of worrying trends are observed. For example, changes in the Law on Public Procurement and the Law on Linear Infrastructure Projects led to significant decrease in open tenders. Political appointments have diminished the independence of several regulatory bodies, as well as state-owned enterprises. On the political side, Serbia is experiencing a single-party dominance, which is establishing its power by capturing media outlets and employing state-owned enterprises such as Telekom Srbija, to influence media coverage and the public debate.
In conclusion, the participants agreed that more efforts should be put into prosecuting high-level corruption (the constitutional referendum from 16 January 2022 re-confirmed the planned judicial reforms). They also highlighted the need of ensuring media freedom and independence of the regulators, as well as establishing a process of regular monitoring of the anti-corruption progress.
Presentation by Dr. Aleksandar Gerganov, Senior Analyst at the Center for Study of Democracy / SELDI Knowledge and Outreach, and Assistant Professor at the Institute Philosophy and Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia