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Fostering institutionalisation? The impact of the EU accession process on state–civil society relations in Serbia


In the framework of its enlargement policy, the EU has placed considerable emphasis on supporting civil society organisations (CSOs) both as domestic drivers of change and as a means to foster new, more participatory modes of governance. Our research examines the impact of the EU accession process on state–civil society relations in the Western Balkans and assesses the extent to which new forms of interaction are becoming institutionalised. Comparing minority rights and environmental regulation in Serbia, we find that enlargement negotiations lead to increased dialogue and more formalised interactions between government and CSOs. However, the institutionalisation of state–CSO cooperation remains partial and is hampered by a lack of political will. Whereas civil servants are generally open to civil society input, political officials frequently resort to façade cooperation in response to external pressures. We conclude that the emerging governance model is nothing like the ‘double weakness’ or agency capture found in earlier studies, but instead consists of strong hierarchy and a narrow group of highly professional CSOs engaged at the margins.

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  1. 1.

    Interview with Government Office for Civil Society, 28 April 2017.

  2. 2.

    Interview with Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP), 24 April 2017.

  3. 3.

    For discussions of this issue in previous accession countries, see Vidačak and Škrabalo (2014) on Croatia and Raik (2006) on Estonia.

  4. 4.

    Interview with Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE), 27 April 2017.

  5. 5.

    Interview with Civic Initiatives (CI), 22 May 2017.

  6. 6.

    While not all of these organisations work narrowly on minority rights protection, their portfolios generally do include at least some activities dealing explicitly with this dimension, not least due to the increased availability of EU funding to support projects in this area.

  7. 7.

    Interview with Forum for Ethnic Relations (Forum), 9 May 2017.

  8. 8.

    Interview with Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), 15 May 2017.

  9. 9.

    Interview with BCSP, 24 April 2017.

  10. 10.


  11. 11.

    Interview with Women’s Platform, 27 April 2017.

  12. 12.

    Interview with Government Office for Human and Minority Rights (‘HR Office), 11 May 2017.

  13. 13.

    Interview with BCSP, 24 April 2017.

  14. 14.

    Interview with HR Office, 11 May 2017.

  15. 15.

    Interview with BCSP, 24 April 2017; BFPE, 27 April 2017.

  16. 16.

    Interview with Belgrade Open School (BOS), 27 April 2017.

  17. 17.

    Interview with Roma League, 27 April 2017.

  18. 18.

    Interview with Bibija, 10 May 2017.

  19. 19.

    Interview with BOS, 27 April 2017; BFPE, 27 April 2017.

  20. 20.

    Interview with BCSP, 24 April 2017.

  21. 21.

    Interview with Serbian activist, 20 September 2017.

  22. 22.

    Interview with Regionalni centar za životnu sredinu (REC) Serbia, 23 May 2017.

  23. 23.


  24. 24.

    Interview with CEP, 19 May 2017.

  25. 25.

    Interview with Center for Ecology and Sustainable Development (CEKOR), 19 May 2017.

  26. 26.


  27. 27.

    This is a view articulated by all CSOs interviewed when asked to summarise their relationship. It was not disputed by the two officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy and the Ministry of Environmental Protection, 23 May 2017.

  28. 28.

    Interview with CEKOR, 19 May 2017.

  29. 29.

    Interview with Mladi istraživači Srbije/Young Researchers Serbia (MIS), 19 May 2017.

  30. 30.

    This is a widely held view, but was expressed most strongly by CEP, CEKOR, MIS and REC Serbia.

  31. 31.

    This was a view echoed by CEKOR and MIS, but also by an interviewee from the Serbian European Integration Office (SEIO), 23 May 2017.

  32. 32.

    This was a view expressed both by CSOs (including CEKOR, MIS and REC), but also by the SEIO and by the two officials from the ministries.

  33. 33.

    Interview with CEKOR, 19 May 2017.

  34. 34.

    Interview with CEP, 19 May 2017, with a similar view from MIS, 19 May 2017.

  35. 35.

    Interview with MIS, 19 May 2017.

  36. 36.


  37. 37.

    Interview with CEP, 19 May 2017.

  38. 38.

    Interview with REC Serbia, 17 May 2017.

  39. 39.

    Interview with MIS, 15 May 2017, with view echoed by an official currently working at a high level within the Ministry.

  40. 40.

    Personal communication with CEP.


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The authors would like to thank their interview partners in Belgrade for their time and gratefully acknowledge the constructive feedback from two anonymous reviewers.

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Correspondence to Natasha Wunsch.

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Fagan, A., Wunsch, N. Fostering institutionalisation? The impact of the EU accession process on state–civil society relations in Serbia. Acta Polit 54, 607–624 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-018-0093-1

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  • Civil society organisation
  • Environment
  • Institutionalisation
  • Minority rights
  • Serbia