EU funding for Serbia well spent, says EU budget watchdog
The EU’s budget watchdog says the €1.2 billion of EU money spent to help Serbia’s future membership with the Union was relatively well managed.
In its report out Tuesday (13 January), the Luxembourg-based European Court of Auditors said Serbia’s pre-accession assistance (IPA) for 2007 to 2013 delivered on social and economic reforms despite the poor execution of some projects.
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“Learning from its past pre-accession support, the commission successfully supported Serbia in addressing key areas such as good governance, the rule of law, and the fight against corruption,” said the Court in a statement.
At the same time, the Court noted some projects suffered from “weaknesses regarding their design, implementation and sustainability” and recommended the commission improve transparency and set up better quality control checks.
It noted, for instance, that an EU project on a judiciary system had run parallel - without any coordination - to another system funded by the United States.
The Court audited 15 IPA funded projects and 'desk' reviewed 10 others. The audits focused on project results while the reviews assessed governance and fight against corruption where projects did not have good governance as a primary objective. The probes took place from May 2013 until January 2014.
Serbia received around €170 million annually from the fund. The money went to areas like justice, transport, and social development.
Around a quarter of it supported governance projects, which include fighting corruption and improving public administration.
The European Commission, in its annual package of EU hopefuls published last October, highlighted corruption in Serbia as a persistent problem.
Despite the political impetus to fight graft by Serbian leadership, corruption remains prevalent, said the commission.
Serbia’s accession negotiations started in January 2014. It faces big political challenges that require it to normalise relations with Kosovo - a pre-condition for future membership.
Full recognition of Kosovo has not been tabled.
But Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics, speaking on behalf of the EU presidency, told Serbian media last week that Belgrade needs to continue high-level dialogue with Pristina.
“The dialogue at a high level after the forming of the government in Kosovo should be continued in the near future, in order to accelerate implementation of existing agreements," he said, reports the Belgrade-based daily Vecernje Novosti.
The European commission, for its part, has downgraded its overall enlargement campaign.
Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said there would be no new EU countries during his five-year term. He also changed the name of the “enlargement” portfolio to “enlargement negotiations”.