The problem of transparency in law-making process is conditioned by a number of factors that are changing quite rapidly. One must be naive to think that the crucial laws whose adoption is being prepared with insufficiently transparent public debate, as the Labor Law, or whose drafts are merely mentioned, without anyone seeing them, as the legislation in the field of education in Serbia that is allegedly still being prepared, are brought in social and political vacuum.
Like countries of the Visegrad Group and Western Balkans, Serbia is faced with a situation in which the new government with a strong parliamentary majority emerged. This is, of course, a good thing, since there will be fewer blockages in the legislative process, and as civil society will know exactly who to turn to seeking greater transparency and wider public debate about the laws that are passed and are yet to be passed in the coming period.
However, some other factors are changed as well. As the Center for Development of Civil Society has been engaged in the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities for fifteen years, it is hard not to see the intertwining influence of different factors.
When we talk about the recent political changes that have taken place, we think of the elections in countries such as Serbia or Macedonia, or the Visegrad countries, for example Hungary. But, other changes significantly affect the transparency of the legislative process as well.
Crimean crisis is a new trial and a new challenge. Any factual border changing in Europe affects not only international relations but also the managing mode of internal issues in all European countries. Crimean crisis has intensified issues related to the adoption of the Labor Law, since it implies adherence to the standards of one of the parties who are confronted regarding Ukraine. It also raised the issue of the existing legislative solutions and their possible changes with regard to such important matters as the oil rent and South Stream. In small countries, foreign policy influences the legislation. Ukrainian events increase the vulnerability of small countries and may decrease transparency not only of their foreign policy, but also the legislative process and the role of the public in them. This cannot be stressed enough. Exacerbated international situation makes demands for transparency even more necessary, and, at the same time, more difficult to achieve. There is an understandable tendency of power holders in exacerbated international situation to further remove public from decision-making process.
Any change in international relations, such as the annexation of the Crimea, affects all countries in Europe, and in different ways. It opens up the possibility of a certain dose of risk in the recomposition of different policies, not only regarding international politics, but also the internal one. Despite a very sustained and constructive behavior of the most influential country of the European Union to Ukraine’s crisis, border changes in Ukraine created a porous border in the Sudeten Mountains and the rivers Oder and Neisse. The deployment of U.S. military in Poland serves deterrence, but not necessarily only deterrence of the possible danger from the East. Some of the Visegrad Group countries are objectively in more delicate position both from the east and from the west, after the annexation of the Crimea.
This is especially true for countries that resolved their minority issues by their expulsion seventy years ago. We in the Western Balkans know that the expulsion of the minority population is a wound that heals to a certain degree but never completely. Magnitude and purpose of the Visegrad Group as a model for the Western Balkans is shown in its evident ability to amortize the difference between its members that have minorities in neighboring countries and those that have expelled their minorities.
It’s hard to dispute the fact that the Crimean crisis and actual change of the borders of Ukraine resulting from it, has in it’s way received an expression in a recent document of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the importance of collective rights of minorities. Namely, a few days ago, the Parliamentary Assembly has adopted a report of Ferenc Kalmár (Rapporteur of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) inviting all members of the European Union to incorporate the decision on territorial autonomy into the practice of their own countries. According to the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary Zsolt Németh, „the report is all the more relevant given the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia, clearly stating as it does that endeavors towards violent secession, the intentions of secession and unification threaten stability, while decentralization and autonomy solutions increase stability.“
Therefore Visegrad group countries, despite occasional disputes, successfully amortize their specific needs arising from different ethnic composition and the existence or non-existence of numerous ethnic minorities within themselves and their minorities in neighboring countries. This is a very important experience for the Western Balkan countries. It is of great significance for Serbia that the day before yesterday the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians entered the government. In Macedonia, Albanian minority parties were also part of the government, and in the elections held the day before yesterday they achieved remarkable electoral success. They, same as the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians in Serbia, strongly support the process of European integration of their country.
It seems that the countries of the Western Balkans have learned something from the countries of the Visegrad Group. The need for learning is increasing as the European integration of the Western Balkans progresses. However the most important experience that Central Europe, embodied in the Visegrad group countries, may transfer to the Western Balkans, is not just the one that refers to an amicable resolution of neighborly disputes. Regional neighborly cooperation is closely associated with the construction of genuine democracy and effective participation of citizens in decision-making. When the state and ethnic groups are in feud with each other, there is no room for the authentic voice of the public. Feud calls for a firm hand and office politics. Policy of neighborly cooperation, protection of minority rights, minority inclusion, in this sense is a necessary prerequisite for ensuring transparency in law-making and governance. This is perhaps the most important lesson that the Balkan countries received from the former common road of Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic towards the European Union, and of their current cooperation within the Union.
*Announcement from Press Conference The Western Balkan countries and the Visegrad Group: transparency in law-making , held on April 29, 2014