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News 29 Sep 17

Balkan States Rank Poorly in Governance Index

New index from Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung lumps Balkan states near the bottom of 41 countries in terms of good governance.

Marcus Tanner
BIRN
London
Sustainable Governance Index for Croatia. Photo: SGI Network

Balkan states bump along the bottom of the table in a new Sustainable Governance Index published by Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung, which takes a close look at how 41 OECD and EU member states are governed.

The ranking looks at each country’s future viability based on 136 quantitative and qualitative indicators grouped under three main pillars – policy performance, democracy and governance [accountability].

The report covers only some Balkan countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Romania, plus one other former Yugoslav republic, Slovenia – all of which rank poorly, with the marked exception of Slovenia, which came in 20th place out of 41.

At the absolute bottom of the pile is crisis-stricken Greece, on account of its “excruciatingly high” unemployment rate, poor universities, low level of spending on healthcare and primary education and high levels of child poverty and tax evasion.

Almost the only bright spot was that “citizens now have a more realistic view of Greece’s constraints”.

Next worse in the ranking in the region was Croatia, in 36th place, despite its robust growth rates in 2016.

The report complained of non-existent economic reforms, high rates of tax evasion and it said joblessness had come down mainly as a result of labour emigration.

On democracy, the report said that while civil rights are “formally” protected in Croatia, de facto discrimination against Roma and ethnic Serbs is widespread and domestic war crimes prosecutions appeared biased.

The Constitutional Court had been “tarnished” by the appointment of politicians and anti-corruption efforts remained feeble.

In terms of accountability, the report complained that few people had much knowledge of public policy as the main broadcaster was “partisan” while most of the media focused on entertainment.

Sharing 36th place was Romania where the report noted many of the same issues: poor education, high drop-out rates from school, high rates of labour emigration and low rates of tax compliance.

In terms of democracy, it said the Bucharest government “relies heavily on government emergency ordinances that undermine legal certainty”.

Judicial independence was improving, however and the national auditor’s office was praised.

However, it added: “The general level of policy knowledge … remains low. Distrust in the political system has deepened. The largest media organizations are highly partisan”.

Bulgaria came top of the Balkan league, albeit only in 33rd place out of 41, thanks partly to falling levels of unemployment, rising tax receipts and more balanced budgets. The media, especially the online media, were praised as relatively informative and pluralistic, although the report said the rise in xenophobic discourse was concerning.

Far above all the inter Balkan states, the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia was ranked in 20th place, praised for its strong environmental policies, robust healthcare and educational systems, “fair and inclusive” democratic procedures and “wide-ranging anti-discrimination” measures.

Nordic countries, predictably, came top of the index, with Sweden in first place followed by Norway. Denmark came in fourth place. Switzerland came third.

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