From: Alice Taylor
European Commission Admits More Must be Done to Improve Rule of Law in Balkans

European Commission admits more needs to be done for the rule of law reforms in the Western Balkans following a European Court of Auditors report which deemed the EUR 700 million of EU work “ineffective” and “not successful”.

The report, completed by the Commissions oversight agency, said that EU rule of law programmes worth over EUR 700 million between 2014 and 2020 had little effect and impact in candidate countries.

“EU support for the rule of law in the Western Balkans has clearly not been successful in bringing about change,” said a member of the court of auditors, Juhan Parts, in a press release.

It noted that it was not just the EU at fault, but also “insufficient political will and lack of commitment” by local governments, which has led to EU support being “generally insufficient to combat problems in areas such as the independence of the justice system, the concentration of power, political interference, and corruption.”

The auditors criticised the Commission for “inconsistent application of preconditions for financing and implementation of projects” and added that Brussels has “rarely used the possibility of suspension of aid in case the beneficiary fails to respect the basic principles of democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

Furthermore, it found that they often failed to measure outcomes in terms of EU-led projects and “few projects are likely to be sustainable.” This lack of sustainability means that money pumped into EU-led projects is de facto wasted if it does not lead to lasting change.

Progress made over the last two decades has been “modest”, which in turn threatens the sustainability of support the EU has provided during the accession process.

“Ongoing reforms lose credibility if they do not yield tangible results,” it continued.

When asked by EURACTIV for a response to the report’s findings, a Commission spokesperson said,  “Important progress has been achieved over the past years, but it is clear that much more needs to be done.”

They added that the Commission welcomes the report, noting that it also said there were “some positive developments in rule of law such as improving the efficiency of the judiciary and the development of the rule of law.” They also noted that part of the blame lies with “insufficient domestic political will to drive reforms forward.”

The Commissions response also noted that while some partners have made progress, “challenges in the rule of law in the region persist and further efforts in this fundamental area of EU enlargement policy are needed to create a genuine rule of law culture, as well as stronger political commitment in the Western Balkans to take forward key reforms.”

They described the Auditors critical report as  “a useful contribution” to their efforts in engaging Western Balkan partners in advancing reforms and consolidating the rule of law across the region.