The €700 million that the European Union has invested in improving the rule of law in the Western Balkans in recent years has been of little use. According to the European Court of Auditors, there was a lack of political will on the part of the Balkan countries and a lack of commitment to the EU.
In the Balkan countries, judges are often not sufficiently independent. Corruption and political interference in the judiciary also remain common. Although EU money went well in the vast majority of cases, the projects supported often had little impact.
Not yet in the EU at present
Western Balkan countries refer to the six countries of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Albania. Slovenia and Croatia are also located in the Western Balkans, but are already members of the European Union. Greece is located in the southern Balkans.
Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia are candidate countries to join the European Union. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidates. These six countries have been receiving support from the European Union for 20 years to strengthen their rule of law. EU member states, including the Netherlands in particular, demand the rule of law before they can join the EU.
“The modest progress made over the past two decades threatens the overall sustainability of EU assistance in the accession process,” said Johan Barts, member of the Council of European Reviewers.
Rule of law with EU money?
This is not the first time that the European Court of Auditors has harshly criticized the way the European Union “invests” in the non-EU justice system. Last year, the regulator published a report on EU funds for Ukraine. There, too, a lot of money was invested in various projects that eventually led to a slight improvement.
According to parts, in the past 10 to 15 years, there is really no example of a country where the rule of law has improved thanks to EU money. “At some point, you have to ask yourself whether it makes sense to spend EU money in this way,” Barts says. The Court considers that this is a very worrying development that may harm the credibility of the European Union.
The European Court of Auditors advises the European Commission to reward the provision of the rule of law primarily with EU funds and to stop investing the funds in all kinds of micro-enterprises. In addition, the rule of law must be strengthened more broadly, for example by providing more support to civil society organizations and independent media.
The Commission will study the Audit Bureau’s report, but it does not appear that less money will go to the Balkans. Although many EU countries are not keen on EU enlargement, they also want to prevent countries like China or Russia from increasing their influence there.
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