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Researchers to Western Balkan and EU policy-makers: We have to learn from informal institutions

As Western Balkan countries continue the road to the European Union, policy-makers need to change their perspective on informal institutions. It is crucial to close the gaps between the world as it is described by formal law and the world as it is lived in informal practice. While informality is a global phenomenon, the Western Balkan region is an important site for the study of informality due to the presence of pressures for major reform.

“We aim not only to identify those informal practices that create problems for legal and regulatory systems, but also informal practices that may offer sources of solutions”, explains Eric Gordy, the coordinator of the Horizon 2020 INFORM project.

On 16-18 November, INFORM project researchers, experts and high-level policy-makers gathered in Bled, Slovenia for a joint conference. During the event, the participants approved a Conference Declaration that calls for new directions in Western Balkan and EU policy-makers’ attitudes toward informality.

Informal institutions and practices often constitute a puzzle for policy-makers. To solve the informality puzzle, the Conference Declaration highlights several strategic and policy directions for closing the gap between formal and formal institutions in Western Balkan countries. Among other calls to policy-makers, the Declaration emphasises the importance of understanding the relationship between policy and social conditions; the necessity to maintain and nurture what works in various spheres of economic, political, and everyday life; and the significance of taking into account that restrictive policies toward informality may not work.

Importantly, the Declaration calls on policy-makers to be ready to learn from informal institutions and adjust formal rules to informal values, norms, and practices. For instance, as INFORM research shows, distributing meat from home slaughter through social networks expands and strengthens social ties; at times it also ensures the economic survival of both producers and consumers of the meat. Nonetheless, the practice has been substantially limited in some Western Balkan countries due to adjustments to EU directives or regulations.

The conference took place in the INFORM: Closing the Gap Between Formal and Informal Institutions project framework with the goal of providing research-based policy recommendations to policy-makers of both Western Balkan countries and EU institutions in the context of EU accession processes.

INFORM is a Horizon 2020 project that brings together teams from nine European countries to conduct multidisciplinary social science research on formal and informal institutions in the Balkans. 

Conference Declaration: http://bit.ly/InformDeclaration

For more information, please contact: Dr Eric Gordy, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, e.gordy@ucl.ac.uk

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