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European Court of Auditors: EU support for rule of law in Western Balkans ineffective

European Commission; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – More than 700 million euros in EU funds pumped into the Western Balkan countries to combat the rule of law issue has been ineffective due to lack of political will and lackluster EU projects, it was stated at the European Court of Auditors report.

The report which was completed by the European Commission’s oversight agency and said that the EU rule of law has little effect and influence in candidate countries.

It noted that it was not just the EU at fault, but also “insufficient political will and lack of commitment” by local governments, which has led to EU support being “generally insufficient to combat problems in areas such as the independence of the justice system, the concentration of power, political interference and corruption”.

The authors criticised the Commission for “inconsistent application of preconditions for financing and implementation projects” and added that Brussels has “rarely used the possibility of suspension of aid in case the beneficiary fails to respect the basic principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights”.

The report found that they often failed to measure outcomes in terms of EU-čed projects and “few projects are likely to be sustainable”. This lack of sustainability means that money pumped into EU-led projects is de facto wasted if it does not lead to lasting change.

According to the report, progress made over the last two decades has been “modest”, which in turn threatens the sustainability of support the EU has provided during the accession talks.

It was added that ongoing reforms lose credibility if they do not yield tangible results.

“EU support for the rule of law in the Western Balkans has clearly not been successful in bringing about change”, said a member of the court of auditors, Juhan Parts in a press release, Exit.al reported.

The report referred to several indicators such as reports from Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders which noted that Serbia, along with Montenegro and Albania, had not improved in the area of freedom of expression but had declined.

European Court of Auditors report called on the European Commission to strengthen the mechanisms for promoting rule of law reforms in the enlargement process such as strategic targets with final impact indicators.

They said that civil society should be engaged in rule of law reforms and media independence through long-term financial support. The report concluded that conditionality should be used when disbursing EU funds and it should be pegged against progress in the rule of law, even for non-rule of law-related beneficiaries.

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