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Participation of CSOs necessary for the accountability of the EU Economic and Investment Plan

How to increase the accountability of the EUR 30bn of the EU Economic and Investment Plan envelope (EIP) to be spent in Western Balkans in the next seven years? How to effectively protect the interests of EU taxpayers, of IFI shareholders and of WB6 citizens? Given the right space and opportunity, specialized CSOs can concretely contribute to EIP’s good governance mechanism.

For the next seven years, the EU Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans will direct circa EUR 30 bn to the region through grants and loans. The goal is to support the post-pandemic recovery of the region and its economic convergence with the EU.

Based on a project-based intervention model that goes in parallel with countries’ reforms, EIP will target large infrastructure, will support human capital and economic development, clean energy and the green transition. It will be delivered through the specially designed Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF), an EU-funded finance blending facility which is currently under transformation to reflect the size and complexity of the task at hand.

To be efficient, this sizable effort has to take into account the WB6 homegrown problems and Balkans’ countries’ structural weaknesses as they directly impact the successful preparation, implementation and operation of EIP flagship projects.

While the WBIF governance is being updated to reflect the new EU spending rules in Western Balkans, the focus remains on project dossier maturity needed for the financial support, and on the procurement procedures. Good governance challenges that affect the project identification and / or operation phases are mostly left to the remit of WB6 government representatives.

Moreover, as third actors’ presence in the region is increasing, different versions of connectivity programs overlap. We are witnessing the prioritization and financing of infrastructure projects through alternative mechanisms and based on criteria that are different and unrelated to EU’s, which weakens EU conditionality.

When we talk about good governance in infrastructure projects, we are talking about the practical and tangible implications of the rule of law in the everyday life of WB6 citizens.

In the new Enlargement methodology, the progress achieved in the Fundamentals cluster, conditions the advancement of negotiations in the Transport, Energy or Digital chapters, and is reported as such. But in the case of EU supported infrastructure the WB6 citizens will not need to consult the yearly EU country reports to learn about the adoption of the acquis or progress of reforms, and how they may impact their life. They will assess infrastructure’s utility immediately as they will use it (or not) every day.

We believe that when dealing with hybrid regimes and flawed democracies, the active participation of specialized CSOs and think tanks in the EIP good governance mechanisms, practically and immediately contributes to the correct handling of the structural weaknesses of captured and / or inept WB6 institutions.

The Berlin Process has provided the necessary push for an increased, focused and regionally coordinated approach of non-governmental organizations. Since 2015, specialized CSO-s and think tanks in the WB6 have monitored the implementation, impact and challenges of EU Connectivity Agenda projects, and produced concrete and high-quality proposals on how to improve its governance.

To further increase the impact of such proposals and ensure the transparency and accountability of these projects, recently a network of more than 20 specialized WB6 think-tanks and CSO-s are formally requesting to be part of the new EIP governance mechanism, by professionally contributing in the planning and implementation of WB6 infrastructure and representing the WB6 citizens’ interest.

As an embodiment of the EU’s inclusive partnership principle, the Open Letter initiative asks EU Institutions to create the space and conditions for specialized CSO-s and Think Tanks to contribute into the good governance throughout all the EIP policy-making components and flagship project phases. It is a collective effort prepared in Belgrade, Podgorica, Prishtina, Sarajevo, Skopje, and Tirana, and can be accessed here.

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