SOFIA – Energy sector in especially vulnerable to foreign political pressure, and we need a transparent and decentralised market, said Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, European Parliament Rapporteur for Kosovo and Greens/EFA Shadow Rapporteur on Serbia, in her keynote speech during the webinar “State Capture: Bridging the Gap between Diagnostics and Practical Solutions in the Western Balkans” organized by the SELDI network (Southeast Europe Leadership for Development and Integrity)
“Unfortunately, as the EU report mentions, in the Western Balkans, the freedom of media is rather questionable, as overwhelming majority of media outlets are under direct influence of political power. Even if the media landscape is much more pluralistic, it does not mean that it is free from political or economic pressure”, emphasised Von Cramon-Taubadel.
According to her, the energy sector in the whole region is characterised by weak governance, lack of transparency and politically influenced state owned enterprises.
“This sector is particularly vulnerable to foreign political pressure, as we have seen it from Russia, China and the US. The energy sector and energy market are corrupt. The way forward is a more transparent, decentralised and sustainable market”, said Von Cramon-Taubadel.
Alexander Gerganov, Senior Analyst at the Center for Study of Democracy, SELDI member organization, said that state capture is institutionalisation of corrupt relations, leading to the privatisation of governance.
”State capture is the abuse of good governance rules in the process of drafting, adoption and enforcement of the rules themselves in favour of a small number of captors at the expense of society and businesses at large”, said Gerganov.
Gerganov added that policy recommendations include stronger political engagement with local leaders on rule of law issues, and safeguarding and monitoring judicial independence and performance.
“Other recommendations include ensuring transparency of media ownership, strengthening anti-monopoly laws, and addressing competition issues in critical sectors like energy, pharmaceuticals and construction”, said Gerganov.
Giulio Venneri, Head of the Centre of Thematic Expertise (CoTE) for Rule of Law, Fundamental Rights and Democracy, in the Directorate General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), mentioned that the term “state capture” appeared for the first time in the 2020 Enlargement Package, although the symptoms of captured states have been reported in the last few years.
“We were able to report in the last Enlargement Package very positive developments in some countries, but even when positive developments were reported, we still were forced to note that there are a lot of weaknesses and expectations to be met”, said Venneri.
According to Venneri, it is difficult to predict what the future holds, but that it is the moment for the EU to show solidarity, and added that the EU has always demonstrated support whenever there was a crisis in the Balkans.
“When it comes to the solidarity which we are showing towards the region, we can be proud of what has been done, of the “Team Europe” for allocating over EUR 3 billion to support enlargement and neighbouring countries to heal from the wounds of lockdown and the pandemic”, said Venneri.
Apart from solidarity, Venneri said that clarity and fairness of the EU’s incentives are necessary, and that the EU needs to reward the countries that deliver.
“We also need political courage, and I think we can give ourselves political courage if we maintain the very close relations with the civil society and NGOs in the region”, concluded Venneri.