European Western Balkans

Open Letter to the EU: CSOs request participation in the new WB Investment Framework

Olivér Várhelyi and Josep Borrell; Photo: European Union

Civil society organisations from the Western Balkans have sent an open letter to the EU institutions requesting formal participation in the new Western Balkans Investment Framework through appropriate mechanisms, to obtain the best value for money for the benefits of our citizens.

The open letter has so far been signed by more than 20 organisations from all six Western Balkan countries. It is addressed to the Slovenian Presidency of the Council, Presidents of the European Commission, European Council and the European Parliament, as well as High Representative Josep Borrell and European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi.

“The new WBIF governance mechanism must create space and the right conditions for the WB6 specialized CSOs and Think Tanks to formally contribute into its good governance throughout all the EIP policy-making components and flagship project phases. The role of civil society should be enhanced also in programs and actions implemented through responsible institutions and government bodies, and not only as a direct beneficiary of EU assistance”, the letter reads.

The CSOs also requested that the appropriate and adapted transparency and accountability mechanisms, covering all stages of the project-cycle, to EU and to WB6 taxpayers must be embedded into the new WBIF good governance mechanism.

In the letter, CSOs remind that, through the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, up to EUR 30bn will be the financial muscle put at the service of recovery, economic development, and green transition in the WB6 for the next seven years, out of which EUR 9bn will be IPAIII funded grants provided by the EU.

“To be delivered through the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF), this amount represents a qualitative jump in the financial assistance to the region towards a project-based development model that goes in parallel with countries’ reforms”, the letter reads.

However, CSOs stress, while the WBIF governance is being updated to reflect IPAIII requirements, WB6 homegrown problems that directly impact the successful realisation of EIP flagship projects are dealt with only partially.

“No remedies are proposed to deal with identified WB6 structural weaknesses such as low involvement of local authorities, capacity constraint at beneficiary level, or change of governments and subsequent alteration of political will required to push forward with the implementation of EIP flagship projects. Issues falling in the category of Fundamentals, such as corruption and conflict of interest, public procurement and rule of law do not figure in the framework factors conditioning the delivery of EIP”, the letter reads.

The CSOs also stated that in the region we are witnessing parallel prioritization pipelines: one that produces the mature projects as per the EU methodology, and other ones that prioritize and finance infrastructure projects through alternative mechanisms and criteria different and unrelated to EU’s.

“Infrastructure project governance is the soft underbelly of EU Enlargement in WB6: if designed wrongly, it can derail the whole economic conditionality as embedded into the Economic and Reforms progress of the WB6 countries”, the letter reads.

In June 2021, the existing problems in these areas were discussed and resulted in policy recommendations during the Civil Society Forum (CSF) “Road to Berlin”.

“For those WB6-wide policy recommendations to not remain paper exercise, we have decided to formally request for the specialized CSO and Think Tanks to become part of the new EIP delivery mechanism. Given the weight of the sovereign-backed loans in the EIP financing and taking into account the “structural weaknesses” of WB6 administrations in charge, the CSO participation in the good governance mechanisms of EIP and 10 Flagship projects will definitely contribute to its transparency and accountability”, the letter reads.

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