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Preface

The economic and political development of the Western Balkans have significant consequences for the European Union (EU) and other neighbouring countries. Home to 18 million people, the region lies at the geopolitically strategic crossroads of Central Europe, the Adriatic and Black Sea regions. Peace and security in the Western Balkans is of utmost importance. In this respect, inclusive economic growth that creates improved living standards and opportunities for all segments of society needs to be vigorously pursued. This cannot be achieved without adherence to the rule of law, nor without well-functioning democratic institutions and public administrations. Despite progress in recent years, much remains to be done. The current global crisis caused by COVID-19 has underscored the need for good governance, as its economic impact will greatly depend on the decision-making qualities of governments.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce a new addition to the regional series of the Government at a Glance publication for the Western Balkan region. It follows similar publications for South-East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. All six countries and economies included in this study are in various phases of their accession process to the European Union. Government at a Glance: Western Balkans and its indicators can help evaluate how close – or how far – these countries are to the norms and the best practices of public administrations in EU and OECD countries. Indeed, the policy chapter focuses on this very issue, reviewing where the Western Balkans stand with respect to the fundamentals of the EU accession process: functioning of democratic institutions and public administration reform, rule of law and economic growth and competitiveness.

Government at a Glance: Western Balkans also includes the most comprehensive set of indicators for the region on public governance, covering finances and employment, government processes, as well as core government results. In this respect, the data presented allows readers to gauge both the design of public governance reforms and their implementation through sound management, comparing the region’s countries to each other as well as to OECD and OECD-EU countries.

Starting with the good news, public finances in the Western Balkan region are solid, with the average fiscal balance close to equilibrium and comparatively low public debt (49.2% of GDP, less than half of the OECD average). Noticeable progress has also been made in terms of gender equality: women represent on average 31.6% of parliamentarians, almost the same as in OECD-EU countries (32.2%), and similar results have been achieved in the share of women at ministerial positions. However, a relatively small and open regional economy, with high levels of informality and an average regional unemployment rate in 2018 three times higher than that of the OECD area, can make the region vulnerable to external shocks such as COVID-19.

Most countries in the region are implementing public administration reforms. The progress is quite remarkable in some areas (e.g. administrative services for businesses), but limited in others. In the area of human resources management (HRM), for example, much emphasis is placed on training civil servants. The experience of OECD countries shows how important it is to establish separate HRM practices for senior civil servants, as these positions are crucial for effective public administration. However, such separate practices are not typical in the Western Balkans. Additional efforts will be required to ensure professional and stable senior civil services comparable to those in OECD countries.

The largest gap between the Western Balkans and the OECD-EU countries is in the area of rule of law. On average 67% of citizens do not trust the judiciary and the courts, compared to 49% in the OECD and OECD-EU countries. Corruption is also a systemic and pervasive problem, and equality before the law has yet to be achieved. In addition, citizens in the region also have a lower level of satisfaction with public services than in OECD-EU countries. For example, only 52% of citizens were satisfied with the health system (68% OECD-EU), and 57% were satisfied with the education system and schools (68% OECD-EU).

Overall, the data show that governments in the Western Balkans are making efforts to bring their public governance systems into the 21st century and closer to the norms and practices of the European Union and the OECD. Much has been done on the legal front to lay the foundations for a well-functioning public sector. Looking ahead, efforts need to focus on the more challenging tasks at hand, this primarily includes implementing and maintaining reforms that will regain the trust of citizens in the rule of law.

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Mr. Angel Gurría

Secretary-General of the OECD

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https://doi.org/10.1787/a8c72f1b-en

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