CDT: The countries of the region are stagnating and even regressing in the field of democratization

Western Balkans countries' flags during Berlin process
Western Balkans countries' flags during Berlin process

PODGORICA – The European Union’s policy thus far has had a limited impact on the rule of law in the Western Balkans, and despite the formal fulfillment of the set tasks and gradual harmonization with the EU acquis, it has become obvious that the desired effects are not being achieved and that the countries of the region are stagnating and even regressing in the field of democratization, it is stated in the publication “Democracy without institutions vol. 2”  by the Center for Democratic Transition (CDT).

This is the conclusion of the analysis on meeting EU political criteria in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

The analysis takes the form of a practical policy proposal that sums up 20 publications released in the region over the previous months and nearly a hundred interviews with experts. Publication “Democracy without institutions vol. 2”  has been produced as part of the project supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway and the Balkan Trust for Democracy, and is publicly available to the citizens of the region as of today.

“Our research has shown that negotiations under chapters brought about a number of changes in regulations, institutions and procedures, but have not led to the strengthening of democratic institutions and sustainable democratic practices. The balance of power has not been achieved in any of the Western Balkan countries, in fact, the executive branch has retained dominance over parliaments and the judiciary”, reads the press release.

It is added that as a rule, electoral processes in the Western Balkans give rise to new political tensions and that the legitimacy of such electoral processes further discredits the legitimacy of all the institutions and processes they are in charge of.

“The desired changes in the legislative and institutional framework and significant improvements of electoral institutions did not take place in countries of the region over the past period. The misuse of public funds for campaigning purposes and suspicions of illegal financing of parties and campaigns continue to burden the electoral processes and spur public distrust in the elections”, reads the press release.

The Center for Democratic Transition said that all of the countries have been carrying out judicial reforms that are focused on the adoption of strategic documents and laws, but which keep failing to bring us closer to our goal – a depoliticized and independent judiciary.

“Despite the favorable assessments of legislative reforms, in practice – the judiciary is not protected from political influences or the influence of the legislative and executive branch. This is especially evident in the selection and promotion of judicial office holders, accompanied by accusations of bias, conflict of interest and inconsistent implementation of law. Public confidence in the judiciary is also declining due to scandals involving most senior judicial officers”, the CDT said in a press release.

It is added that captured state, endemic corruption, corruption as a way of life, corruption in all pores of society – are just some of the phrases more commonly used by civil society organizations, analysts, but also international organizations, when describing the situation in the Western Balkans.

“National authorities do not have a sufficiently good response to the criticisms dealt. There is no authentic political determination to implement reforms. The pressure coming from the international community does prompt the adoption of improved laws, but they are not substantially implemented. A repressive response to corruption and organized crime yields results that are just as poor”, reads the press release.

When it comes to the media environment, the publication states that it is nowhere near satisfactory in the countries analyzed and that some of the common key issues for the entire region are an unregulated market, inadequate regulation, weak or non-existent self-regulation, political influence on the media and an unsafe environment for journalists.

It is added that all of the countries are faced with the spreading of misinformation and propaganda, be it for political or economic reasons, and none of them have functional mechanisms to counter these phenomena in a democratic way.

“Citizens of the Western Balkans also started recognizing these problems. Their faith in the European project has been waning, as it has become clear that membership is still a long way off, and that the very process has not triggered changes that would have a meaningful impact on their lives. European influence in the region has been weakening in recent years, and nationalist political elites have been using this time to revert to the old rhetoric and raise regional tensions”, the CDT concluded.