Under the work of the project “CSOs Networking for Better Local Democracy in the Balkans”, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and implemented by the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN), three comparative studies were done that examine the level of citizen participation in decision-making locally within the WB6. Each of them takes an extensive analysis into various legal sources, mechanisms, and initiatives, and focuses in on a different facet of citizen participation, those being local self-government, CSOs and Participation in the local level, and citizen participation in policy and decision-making. The research books are provided in English, Macedonian, Albanian, and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. The three studies represent one comprehensive comparative analysis of the current situation of citizen participation in the region.
The first book is about local self-government in the Western Balkans and key features and attributes. More specifically, it thoroughly examines the decentralization from higher levels of government down to lower, and local systems. Decentralization is one of the most prominent series of reforms in the region, but often lacks the resources to be able to manage it properly and effectively. Decentralization is primarily done in order to give the citizens a degree of accountability, mobilization, participation, and clarity on a local level, and further legitimize government within their eyes. Across the different government systems in the region though, the level of decentralization greatly differs due to various domestic factors, including funding, legal mechanisms, individual conditions, etc. We see examinations of key features, structures, and mechanisms within the local government of multiple internal systems in the countries.
The second book is about CSOs and Participation in the making of decisions and policy on the local level in the Western Balkans, along with challenges and extensive evaluations. The civil sector is important in strengthening democracy and accountability in the region, and CSOs play various roles with varying levels of political involvement, including consultation, dialogue, feedback, forging partnerships, etc. They are also important in the role of the EU accession process and the facilitation of it. Civil society stands as a way for the public to express its interests on multiple levels. The study examines policies, initiatives, and mechanisms within the targeted region to act as a guide for those who want to engage in local participation. Encouraging citizens to become more active in their local societies is a good way to promote needs and address societal issues, and it is something that is commonly encouraged by the Council of Europe.
The third book is about general community participation in the local level of decision-making within the Western Balkans. Citizen participation remains one of the prime hallmarks of the functioning of democracy, and each country has their mechanisms and laws for regulating it. Citizens have a fundamentally given series of tools for active participation outlined by the law and is to be used for the formation of local law. Citizen initiatives have been historically lacking within the region, and the purpose of the document is to further examine the interests, initiatives, and degree of participation, in various municipalities within the region. Laws may provide the basis for participation, but there still needs to be more encouragement to further facilitate it.
Local democracy and citizen participation continue to be major fundamental focusing points in the strengthening of the region of the Western Balkans and needs to be paid attention to. The publishing of these comparative studies is meant to inform and act as a guide for curious citizens and groups. There is plenty that needs to be learned and understood on the way to promoting better practices in the Western Balkans, and many new ideas to be shared. Hopefully, this information can lead to further mobilization of citizens on a local level and advocact for citizens in the Western Balkans.