European Union Auditor: No return on rule of law assistance in the Western Balkans

The European Union auditor said that the European Union invested hundreds of millions of euros in six Western Balkan countries to improve the rule of law there, but did not get anything in return.

BRUSSELS-The European Union auditor stated that the European Union has invested hundreds of millions of euros in six Western Balkan countries to improve the rule of law there, but it has not been rewarded.

According to a report released by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) on Monday, these countries often continue to show a lack of commitment to solve any problems, from widespread corruption to state intervention, which will help them become EU members. desire.

The 27 member states of the European Union are faced with numerous problems themselves, and they have been procrastinating to join Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, and to draw closer membership. At the same time, the influence of China and Russia in turbulent regions has increased.

“The EU’s support for the rule of law in the Western Balkans has clearly failed to bring about comprehensive changes,” said Juhan Parts, who wrote the highly critical ECA report.

The 52-page report shows that from 2014 to 2020, 700 million euros (795 million U.S. dollars) for assistance in reforming institutions have had little effect. In the past two decades, when countries have freed themselves from communist rule, wars, and internal strife, they have been tempted to lay the foundation for Western democracy.

According to the report, the EU often uses too many carrots instead of enough sticks because the investment in the project has not had an impact on society as a whole.

“If the beneficiaries fail to comply with the basic principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, the EU rarely takes advantage of the possibility of a suspension of aid,” ECA said in a statement.

Even though the report “has seen some positive developments recently, mainly in Albania and North Macedonia,” it stated that “with insufficient political will (supported by the EU), the overall impact on the fundamental role of advancing legal reforms is limited. “

It said that the main problems in various countries are still related to judicial independence, concentration of power, political interference and corruption.

If any country wants to become a member, it must abide by the thousands of rules and regulations that the group is already using. During the application for membership, they negotiate in a separate chapter, including respect for the rule of law and democratic standards, media freedom and judicial independence, and the implementation of socio-economic reforms.

This study is often sharply criticized. It was carried out when the momentum of EU enlargement stagnated. This was because the current members were too introverted during the pandemic anxiety period, and in some governments, the tendency toward authoritarianism was increasing. strong. The area.

Since the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the prospect of membership has been a strong driving force for reform in the Balkans. Croatia and Slovenia have joined, but the EU has not expanded since 2013.