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Executive summary

The first edition of Government at a Glance: Western Balkans presents a dashboard of key indicators on how governments in this region work and perform. These indicators allow governments to compare their performance to each other and to OECD countries, and their practices to those in the EU and OECD. The policy chapter focusses on the fundamentals of the EU accession process as defined by the European Commission: democracy and public administration reform, rule of law and economic governance.

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The relative stability of the public finances in the Western Balkan economies is a key factor with regard to establishing the necessary room for manoeuvre in the face of the COVID 19 crisis.

  • The average fiscal balance in the region is close to equilibrium; over the past decade it improved by 2.1 percentage points, reaching an average deficit of 0.3% of GDP in 2018.

  • Public debt is comparatively low (in 2018, average debt in the Western Balkans was 49.4% of GDP, and 108.6% in the OECD). Nevertheless, public debt has increased by 18 percentage points since 2008.

  • Public investment in the region remains high but fell at a faster pace than in OECD and EU countries, averaging 3.9% of GDP in 2018.

  • The revenue base is comparatively smaller, partly due to high levels of informality. Western Balkan countries and economies collect on average USD 5 694 PPP per capita compared to USD 17 865 PPP in OECD countries. .

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Incorporating a long-term perspective in the budget, enhancing budgetary flexibility and measuring fiscal risks would strengthen fiscal frameworks.

  • The re-allocation of funds within spending units is permitted in all Western Balkan economies with some restrictions. However, carry-overs of unused funds are not permitted, in contrast to the OECD, where, under different modalities, carry-overs are practiced for all types of expenditure.

  • Half of Western Balkan countries and economies have a central unit responsible for identifying and managing fiscal risks, compared to three-quarters of OECD countries. In the Western Balkans these units focus primarily on identifying external risks (e.g. macroeconomic shocks, changes in interest rates) or risks linked to government guarantees, while in OECD countries they usually measure and disclose such risks.

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Legislated quotas for parliamentarians have improved gender equality in public life.

  • In 2020, women’s representation in lower/single houses of parliaments in the region was 31.6%, in line with the OECD (31.1%) and OECD-EU (32%) averages.

  • Women held 27.7 % of ministerial positions on average in 2020, compared to the OECD average of 32.2% and the OECD-EU average of 33.2%.

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Centres of government (CoG) have an important role in policy-co-ordination, with more emphasis on formal rules

  • All CoGs in the region are involved in preparing the government programme, which is the case in only 59% of OECD-EU countries.

  • Compared to OECD and OECD-EU, more emphasis is placed on formal types of policy co-ordination (e.g. cabinet meetings) and less on informal ones (e.g. ad hoc meetings).

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Separate HRM practices for senior managers are rare

  • Centrally defined skills profiles and performance management schemes dedicated to senior managers are lacking.

  • All Western Balkan countries and economies have whole-of-government training strategies, compared to slightly more than one-third of OECD and OECD-EU countries. However, there is less emphasis on training plans at the level of individual organizations, while plans for individual employees are used in a similar way to those in OECD and OECD-EU countries.

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Public procurement systems and practices put less attention on pre- and post-tendering phases.

  • Western Balkan countries and economies engage much less frequently in dialogue with the private sector – only North Macedonia does so on a regular basis. This is a common practice in OECD and OECD-EU countries, especially as part of market research.

  • All Western Balkan countries and economies use e-procurement systems to announce tenders, provide tender documents and notify the award, whereas none provide online catalogues or electronic invoicing on their e-procurement systems.

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The Western Balkans have taken steps to transition towards digital government

  • All Western Balkan countries and economies have assigned organisations to lead and co-ordinate digital government policies, but they have mostly advisory responsibilities and fewer decision-making powers than their OECD counterparts.

  • In most Western Balkan countries and economies, the governance and management of public sector data are addressed only as part of open government policies and not in a comprehensive policy on public sector data.

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Trust in government has declined since 2007.

  • In 2019, one-third of citizens on average had confidence in national government, 4 percentage points lower than in 2007. While trust levels dropped in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia, they improved in Albania (4.p.p.) and Serbia (14 p.p.).

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There are significantly fewer constraints on government powers.

  • The regional average is 0.46 compared to the OECD EU average of 0.77. Similarly, the protection of fundamental rights is evaluated much lower than in OECD and OECD-EU countries.

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The region performs fairly well in ensuring a favourable business environment. However, differences within the region are significant.

  • North Macedonia is the regional frontrunner in terms of a business-friendly environment, and outperforms the OECD and OECD-EU averages. Bosnia and Herzegovina has the least favourable business environment in the region,

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Citizens in the Western Balkans have lower levels of satisfaction with public services, on average, than in OECD-EU countries and there are significant differences across the region.

  • In 2019, 52% of citizens were satisfied with the health system, 57% with the education system and 33% with the justice system compared to OECD-EU averages of 68%, 68% and 56%. Citizens are increasing satisfied with the quality of health systems (8 p.p. from 2009 to 2019), while satisfaction with the education system has decreased (by 7 p.p.) and confidence in the justice system has remained stable.

  • The quality of health care and education has improved in the region. People have longer and healthier lives and students perform better in standardized reading, mathematics and science tests (PISA). Nevertheless, life expectancy is still four years shorter than in OECD-EU countries, varying from 72 years in Kosovo to 78 years in Albania. Student performance still lags behind OECD-EU countries, although Serbia is not far behind in mathematics.

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