Jun 29, 2023

CEF Director Joins CIPFA's Annual Conference Public Finance Live

CEF Director Jana Repanšek joined the panelists at the CIPFA’s annual conference, Public Finance Live, and discussed how the current political and economic landscape is challenging the governance systems and can limit the effectiveness of capacity development work in the public sector. Here are some extracts from Ms. Repanšek's presentation about the opportunities and challenges South East Europe (SEE) will be facing in the coming years. 

Brain drain and the aging population remain the challenges that are addressed by targeted policy measures. Economic policies focus on the recovery from Covid-19 and on competitiveness and economic growth. Policymakers are making a strong effort to improve people’s well-being through improving public sector services and easing the administrative burden on economic agents. This is accompanied by digitalization and the growth of the data economy, while cybersecurity and data protection are becoming even more essential. Due to the pressing environmental challenges, more attention is given to actions that protect the planet and address climate change. This positive narrative for the SEE region provides the CEF with a frame for better targeting our contribution to the region’s development in the area of our expertise.

The brain drain in SEE is typically associated with two political problems: uncertainty regarding the accession of countries to the European Union (EU) and the lack of trust among young people in the domestic political elites who lead the accession processes. The EU prioritizes stability in the Western Balkans (WB) over the quality of democratic governance.

At a technical level, it is recommended to focus on two key solutions: improving the efficiency of public institutions and increasing investments in lifelong learning or the education system. The latter has led the CEF to develop our own methodology of becoming and being a learning organization. The focus on learning organizations is intentionally non-political and addresses six components of building the capacities of public institutions. Practicing the building blocks of a learning organization will empower public officials as confident and networked leaders of ideas, people, and reforms; teams to achieve results based on institutional values and collaboration; and public institutions themselves to improve their overall results.

Investing in high-quality learning programs plays a crucial role in the professionalization of the public sector and the depoliticization of public institutions. Such investments are instrumental in enhancing the knowledge, skills, and competencies of public officials, enabling them to perform their duties more effectively and efficiently. This year, CEF has started implementing a four-year multi-beneficiary capacity development project funded by the EU for the next-generation leaders and policymakers aged 35 or younger from the WB. Through different project activities, our objective will be i) to improve knowledge and experience of the EU accession process acquired by the next generation of public administrators and policymakers in the WB, and ii) to enhance a stronger professional network between young public officials and between administrations.

By emphasizing the importance of the Economic Reform Programme (ERP) document, which EU candidates and potential candidates need to submit annually to the European Commission (EC), and by supporting the capacity development of public officials involved in its preparation, we are contributing to the development of suitable policies and structural reforms. These policies and reforms provide the basis for investments that are free from geopolitical and social issues. Unfortunately, the process of preparing the ERP document lacks adequate political support and visibility, often coinciding with the preparation of the state budget. Consequently, countries seek external financing from sources outside the EU that have fewer demands.

In this regard, the CEF remains committed to providing ongoing support to EU candidates and potential candidates in strengthening their capacities to integrate structural reforms within fiscal frameworks in the ERPs. Through a four-year multi-beneficiary capacity development project funded by the EU we support ERP teams in boosting budgetary and strategic planning of structural reforms, impact assessment of structural reforms and monitoring their implementation, mechanisms for coordinated and participatory ERP process, and knowledge management and regional exchange on ERP process.

Climate change and environmental protection are global topics. In practice, they are poorly represented in policy design and implementation in the WB. There are primarily two reasons for this. The first is that each country has numerous other pressing issues that require the attention of politicians (e.g., the pandemic, global energy crisis, and poor interregional relations). This is a political reason. The second reason is technical. Public sector officials and policymakers lack knowledge of how to identify areas and measures that would yield positive results in mitigating climate change and protecting the environment.

At the CEF we incorporate green topics into our learning and knowledge sharing program for SEE public officials. We are currently developing a project that will address the challenge of designing and communicating concrete policies in this field. Additionally, we will connect experts working on climate change and environmental protection in a community of practice. This community will serve as a platform for regular meetings, where professionals can share experiences, exchange knowledge, and collaborate on green topics. We also expect the project will contribute to the formulation of policies at the regional level.

This two-day conference brought together more than 700 professionals working in public finance and accountancy in the United Kingdom and globally. It took place on June 27- 28, 2023, in London.