Thursday

20th Jan 2022

EU funds for rule of law in Western Balkans wasted

  • Rule of law advanced little in the Western Balkans and inside the EU last year (Photo: James Burke)
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The EU has got next to nothing for €700 million of its tax-payers' money meant to help rule of law in the Western Balkans.

The spending, between 2014 and 2020, had "little impact" on the situation in Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, the EU Court of Auditors in Luxembourg said on Monday (10 January).

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"Some technical and operational reforms have taken place," it noted.

"But in a context of insufficient political will and a lack of engagement, EU support has been largely insufficient to tackle persistent problems in areas such as the independence of the judiciary, the concentration of power, political interference, and corruption," it added.

Local leaders' will aside, the EU's soft approach to doling out project-funding was part of the problem.

There was "inconsistent application of pre-conditions for project funding", the auditors remarked.

And "the EU has too rarely exploited the possibility of suspending assistance if a beneficiary fails to observe the basic principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights", they said.

"The modest progress made over the last 20 years threatens the overall sustainability of the EU support provided under the accession process. Constant reforms lose credibility if they do not deliver tangible results," one of the court auditors, Juhan Parts, also said.

The bad news comes amid troubled times in the region.

The EU enlargement process stood still last year because Bulgaria has vetoed the opening of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia over a historical dispute.

Kosovo-Serbia talks on normalising relations made little progress.

And Bosnia risked going backward, amid threats by its ethnic Serb leader to tear the country apart.

For its part, France, which took over the EU presidency in January, is an enlargement sceptic which has also vetoed progress on North Macedonia and on Kosovo visa-free travel in the past.

The fact president Emmanuel Macron is fighting for re-election in April against far-right and anti-immigrant challengers means that opening the EU door to new members from the troubled region might be low on his agenda for now.

And the fact the EU is struggling to protect rule of law in its own ranks, including in Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia, means its soft-power charm is also less appealing than before.

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