On Friday, the 8th of February 2019 (9am-6pm), the final INFORM
conference Closing the gap between formal
and informal institutions in the Balkans took place at the Holiday Hotel, in
Sarajevo. This conference provided an opportunity for exchange of opinions
between the INFORM project team and the EU representatives from Brussels, the
EU regional offices, academics, international institutions, policy makers and
the general public.
About forty researchers from the Western Balkans region, the UK and
Latvia, participated in this three-year research project exploring the discrepancy
between formal institutions and informal practices and its effects on the EU
integration process in the Western Balkans. The consortium of nine research
centres was led by the University College London (UCL).
The project’s findings show that the informal economy and various
informal practices are widely present phenomena in the region. Whether it is
buying groceries at the market, getting math lessons or a taxi ride without a
tax invoice, informality remains a part of everyday life of many Western Balkan
citizens. Although formal institutions should strive to establish equal
opportunities, they are often characterized by the informal rules and practices
around which they are built. In the Western Balkan countries, where the ordinary
citizen complains about the system’s functionality, various informal practices
enable people to achieve desired goals.
Constructive and limiting segments of informality have been
comprehensively covered within the project through the fields of economy,
politics and everyday life. The causes of the emergence of informality have
been investigated through the monitoring of the informal networks and practices,
looking at the effects that arise when formal and informal institutions are in discrepancy.
Among others, researchers have identified useful aspects of informality such as
the positive effects of ethnic diversity in entrepreneurship, creation and
utilization of social capital and using informality as a survival strategy. On
the other hand, a high level of informal economy, followed by high
justification of tax evasion by citizens, and high level of informality in
political decision-making or vote buying practices in the elections, are
recognized as limiting factors for the sustainable development of Western
Balkan societies. In line with the project results, recommendations were made
to overcome these obstacles, sublimated in a policy book “Meaningful reform in the Western Balkans – Between formal institutions and informal practices”.
Since the beginning of the Inform project (2016) within the EU Horizon
2020 program, over twenty workshops and conferences were held, while the
results of the project were disseminated in 17 countries around the world.