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Regional cooperation: The key to opening Western Balkans' door to the European Union

November 25-26th 2015, Jahorina, Bosnia and Herzegovina

(left to right) Mr. Veroljub Arsic, Mr. Predrag Kožul, Mr. Igor Radojicic and Mr. Marjanco Nikolov.

Over 50 MPs, ministers, government representatives and experts gathered at the olympic mountain of Jahorina in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to discuss prospects of strengthening regional cooperation between the Western Balkans' countries and institutions.

During the two day conference the participants discussed, debated and exchanged views and opinions relating to the Western Balkans' progress towards the EU and the opportunities that EU funds provide to the Western Balkans.

Agreement was also reached on the importance and benefits of stronger parliamentary scrutiny of public spending. Possibilities for cooperation between the parliaments and the executive branch in order to implement the Vienna conclusions and the Berlina agenda were also explored.

“The system of public finance, particularly since the beginning of the global economic crisis, has once again become the centre of attention," Mr. Veroljub Arsic, Chairperson of the the Committee on Budget, Finance and Control of Spending Public Funds  and deputy speaker of the National Assembly of Republic of Serbia, said.

"The will to control public fund raising as well as spending those funds is getting bigger. All parliaments in the region prepare analysis on how to integrate the system of budget spending control and budget revenue raising. Even though we have institutions like the State audit institution that exist and control the legality of spending, it is not enough.

"That is why we accepted the initiative the Westminster Foundation presented to the Serbian parliament for opening a budget office, where experts on public finance will provide support and analyses to the MPs in order to be able to do more efficient financial control."

In November 2015, the National Assembly of Republic of Serbia with the support of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) become the first parliament in the Western Balkans to establish a Parliamentary Budget Office.

The idea behind the establishment of the PBO is to embed a body within the parliament where experts on public finances will prepare analyses and briefs on budgets, sumarise reports from the State Audit Institution and do costing of laws, with the purpose of supporting MPs in conducting more comprehensive financial scrutiny. If this approach proves effective, it could serve as model to other parliaments in the Western Balkans.

The agenda initiated during the meeting of the Heads of States of the Western Balkans in Berlin, as well as the conclusions of the Vienna conference that came as a follow-up to Berlin, are two important processes for the region, since they pave the road that the Western Balkans countries need to walk before joining the EU.

Mrs. Jadranka Joksimovic, Minister without Portfolio responsible for European integration in the Government of Serbia, and Mr. Igor Crnadak, Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, presented in detail what these processes mean and what they envision. They explained how the parliaments and the executive branches of government can work together in order to implement them.

“I think that it's clear to all of us that this concept of the regional cooperation is effective," Minister Crnadak said.

"It's obvious that this is one of the most efficient tools for all the countries in the region, especially in the field of Euro integration. And this is why I'd like to praise the very existence of this Network of Parliamentary Committees."

At the end of the conference, the participants recognised the value and the achievements of the NPC in the past three years, concluding that:

  • Parliaments in the Western Balkans should use the civil sector's expertise and knowledge to engage in evidence-based negotiations with the EU, to engage in more intensive oversight on spending of the EU funds in the region, and increase their engagement in the processes of programming and planning of the IPA funds on country level;
  • They welcome the establishment of the Budget Office in the National Assembly of Republic of Serbia as the first PBO in the Western Balkans and the sharing of good practices in financial and budgetary oversight, while committing that the parliaments should work together with WFD and other potential donors to implement these practices and establish budget offices in other parliaments as well; and
  • The parliaments have a key role in  improving and increasing the communication regarding the Berlin process, bringing it closer to the citizens and increase the internal debate about it in parliamentary sessions.

At the closing of the conference Mr. Emil Atanasovski, Regional representative of WFD in the Western Balkans, Mrs. Mira Grgic, MP in the Parliament of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Chairperson of the NPC board and Mr. Vladimir Marinkovic, deputy speaker of the National Assembly of Republic of Serbia, made a summary of the work of the NPC in the past period, and announced that the work of the network will continue in the years to come.

 

(left to right) Мr. Branislav Borenovic moderating the panel with Mrs. Jadranka Joksimovic, Minister without portfolio responsible for European integration in the Government of Serbija and Mr. Igor Crnadak, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina 

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