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International Advice and Institutional (Mis)configuration

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The Case of Serbia1

image of Southeastern Europe

International aid and assistance to the Western Balkans, which began more than two decades ago after the disintegration of sfr Yugoslavia, has been severely criticised on various grounds by academics, politicians, and domestic elites. One of the main points of criticism has been heavy foreign interference into domestic affairs, which deprives local policy-makers of ‘policy ownership.’ This paper uses four paradigmatic examples of reform in Serbia – in the areas of labor market, income taxation, pensions system, and privatization – to show that, despite the widely accepted view of the dominant role of international actors in the creation of the reform agenda, there was significant room for local policy-makers in Serbia to exercise full ownership over the ongoing reforms. What policy-makers really needed was expertise, a clear vision of the desired reforms, the determination to defend their agenda, and technical skills to implement it. The significantly different outcomes of the four areas of reform analyzed in this paper, despite involving virtually the same actors of international intervention, seem to illustrate well our hypothesis that the failure of some important sectoral reforms in Serbia during the post-2000 period was the result of the policy-makers’ own weaknesses, rather than the result of external conditionality.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Economics, University of Belgrade,; 2: Department of Economics, Finance and Statistics, , University of Perugia,


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