The European Union's financial and political support for fundamental rule of law reforms in the Balkan countries has so far had little effect. According to a study by the European Court of Auditors, problems persist in those countries regarding the independence of judges, widespread corruption and suppression of freedom of expression.
The EU has been providing those countries with hundreds of millions of grants for twenty years to support their gradual integration into the Union. On July 1, 2013, Croatia became the first of seven countries to join the EU; Montenegro, Serbia, the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania are nominated to join.
Accession negotiations are already underway with Montenegro and Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidate countries.
No admission of new EU countries is expected in the coming years. Within the EU, more and more people are calling to first modernize their own EU organization, including the range of tasks, powers and financing. Some EU member states have declared themselves outspoken against further expansion of the EU.
The European Commission must first do more to push through rule of law reforms in the Western Balkans, it concludes. The European Court of Auditors also emphasizes that the substantial subsidies have so far not been successful.
In an initial response, European Commission spokesmen emphasized that important progress has been made in recent years, but at the same time acknowledged that much more remains to be done.
In the report, the Court of Auditors notes that the blame should not lie solely with the European Union. Local authorities in the candidate countries have also done too little to meet the EU criteria, it says.
“This means that the money for these initiatives is de facto wasted, as there can be no talk of a lasting change. The progress made over the past two decades remains very modest.”
“This in turn threatens the sustainability of the aid provided. Ongoing reforms lose credibility if they fail to deliver tangible results.”