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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
News article10 January 2022Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

EU support for the rule of law in the Western Balkans has contributed to reforms but important fundamental challenges persist

Rule of Law

The Commission welcomes the report of the European Court of Auditors on the EU support for the rule of law in the Western Balkans, which acknowledges that EU assistance has contributed to reforms and led to positive developments in rule of law, such as improving the efficiency of the judiciary and was key to implementing the legislative framework and promoting a proactive approach in the fight against corruption, particularly in some Western Balkan partners.

The rule of law remains the cornerstone of the accession process and will determine enlargement partners’ overall pace of progress on their path towards the EU.

As the Commission’s latest Enlargement reports make clear, further efforts in this fundamental area of EU enlargement policy are needed to create a genuine rule of law culture, as well as stronger political commitment in the Western Balkans to take forward key reforms. In this respect, the Commission notes the Court of Auditors' conclusion that the main obstacle to necessary reforms is the lack of domestic ownership and political will.

The Commission will continue to engage with the Western Balkan partners to help advance reforms and consolidate the rule of law across the region. The recommendations of the European Court of Auditors are a useful contribution to these vital efforts. 

The ‘fundamentals first’ approach put in place by the Commission in the framework of the revised enlargement methodology sets a stronger focus on the rule of law in the Western Balkans. The Court of Auditors assessed that these revised policy tools are well placed to steer reforms.

As regards independent actors such as civil society and media, the Commission recognises the key role they play in a democratic pluralistic society based on the rule of law and supports them in exercising their critical rule of law function in the Western Balkan.

The Commission will continue supporting their essential role across all relevant sectors. During the 2014-2020 financial period, around €250 million were allocated to civil society and the media across the region. Support on this scale will continue in the 2021-2027 financial period.

In addition, the Commission supports civil society and media through systematic engagements and consultations, including when preparing the Enlargement package.

Background

Candidate countries that wish to join the EU need to meet key conditions known as the Copenhagen criteria, amongst them stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.

The Court of auditors made a performance audit of the EU’s actions to promote the rule of law in the Western Balkans.

The revised enlargement methodology adopted in February 2020 has enhanced the Commission’s focus on fundamental reforms, starting with the rule of law, while additionally providing a stronger political steer as well as stronger conditionality.

The EU is assisting the Western Balkans in this transformation at the political, legislative, organisational and practical level. Under the Pre-Accession Instrument (IPA II) €700 million were allocated for structural reforms in the area of the rule of law in 2014-2020.

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