The European Union’s action has had little effect on progress in basic reforms in the rule of law in the Western Balkans, according to a special report released by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

Certain technical and operational reforms have been implemented in the region, but in the context of a lack of political will and lack of engagement, EU support has generally been insufficient to address issues such as judicial independence, power concentration, political interference and corruption, the auditors said.

All Western Balkan economies have problems with the rule of law and fundamental rights, and the EU has been trying to help them implement a reform plan for more than 20 years, it said.

EU assistance is based on two interrelated lines of action, financial support, which reached approximately 700 million euros from 2014 to 2020, and political dialogue. The court prepared a report to determine whether such action was appropriate to the desired goal.

The EU’s rule of law priorities in the Western Balkans are clear and in principle translated into specific measures under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance. However, the auditors concluded that there are key risks to the sustainable impact of its operation that remain insufficient.

Measures to address unsatisfactory administrative capacity and lack of political will, which play a key role, are few and often ineffective. In addition, the auditors warn of inconsistent application of preconditions for financing and implementation of projects, it is stated.

The EU, he added, seldom seeks to suspend aid if the beneficiary country does not respect the basic principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The auditors also found that EU support to civil society is not enough to meet the needs of the sector and that it is mainly based on short-term projects.

The EU’s actions seem to have contributed to the reforms, but that is because the reports are usually focused on quantitative achievements, and not enough on what the reforms have really achieved.

Based on the performance assessments made by the EU auditors, a completely different picture is given and it can be concluded that the overall progress on the rule of law in the region is rather limited, and that sustainability is difficult to achieve.

Despite decades of political support and EU financial assistance, basic problems remain unresolved in many Western Balkan countries. Among them are problems with the independence of the judiciary, the fight against corruption, which is still widespread, and freedom of expression.

The auditors recommend that the European Commission strengthen the rule of law reform mechanism, strengthen support for civil society organizations and independent media, link funding more directly to progress in the rule of law, and improve project reporting and monitoring.

By Editor

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