The Balkans do not only share a love for folkloristic music, good food and strong rakija. Unfortunately, they also share a history of political malpractice. The respective countries often poll poorly in independently conducted surveys monitoring corruption and political accountability worldwide, such as Transparency International’s annual “Corruption Perceptions Index”.
In order to discuss the state of political accountability in various Balkan countries, the Greek office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) invited experts from five different Balkan countries to Thessaloniki. The workshop, conducted by Charles du Vinage, FNF project director for the Western Balkans, and Markus Kaiser of FNF Brussels, featured participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Serbia.
After presenting an overview of the situation in their respective countries, the experts discussed the reasons for a general lack of political accountability in the Balkans. “Political accountability” describes the obligation of the government to act in the best interest of its citizens or to face consequences. In a well-functioning democracy, public officials constantly inform the citizens and explain their actions in order to be held responsible for right- or wrongdoings.
It soon became apparent that the causes as well as the symptoms of the lack of political accountability are quite similar across country borders. It also showed that accession to the European Union had little effect on the improvement of the situation, since Greece became a EU member state in 1981, Bulgaria in 2007 and Croatia in 2013, whereas Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are still moving towards a EU membership. While EU accession facilitates reforms towards the rule of law, it does not necessarily have an impact on political accountability. In a further session, the participants engaged in discussions about four key messages that liberal parties and politicians should communicate to their voters.
In the evening, the one-day workshop was rounded off by a public event organized in cooperation with the City of Thessaloniki, this year’s “European Youth Capital”. Lord Mayor Giannis Boutaris welcomed the guests and pointed out the significance of political accountability especially in local politics due to its proximity between politicians and citizens. He argued for full transparency in political decision-making and encouraged the predominantly young crowd to solely support politicians which are open to accountability. Dusko Kisberi, Head of Cabinet of the Regional President of the Region of Istria (Croatia), Serbian blogger Pavle Mihajlovic and Prof. Panagiotis Liargovas, Head of the Greek Parliamentary Budget Office, then shared their thoughts with the audience and discussed ways how to hold politicians accountable for their actions.