BRUSSELS – The European Union remains committed to the rule of law reforms in the Western Balkans despite being aware of the unsatisfactory track-record within the countries. This was a general position shared by the representatives of various EU institutions and civil society who met with the POINTPULSE team of researchers during their advocacy trip to Brussels in November 2017.
Despite the positive momentum after the announcement of the 2025 membership perspective in the Commission President Juncker’s State of the Union address, the obligation on meeting the set criteria for the European path of the Western Balkans was strongly reiterated. There are growing concerns in the Brussels administration regarding the quality of democracy within the Western Balkan countries, which will be more apparent in the following EU reports.
One of the major negative trends that the POINTPULSE researchers shared with the Members of the European Parliament was the further democratic backsliding and the risk of state capture.
“For example in Serbia, just this year, the Government proposed several sets of amendments to the laws on police, armed forces, and intelligence agency, which was coupled with several highly problematic political appointments of the top-echelon security officials. It is apparent that these are concerted attempts at further concentrating powers in the security sector and severing ties with what remains of the mechanisms for democratic control and accountability,” said Bojan Elek, a researcher at Belgrade Centre for Security Policy.
The POINTPULSE researchers had the opportunity to discuss the rule of law progress of the Western Balkans with the country desk officers in the Directorate General for the Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR). Another priority area in the enlargement process, the fight against corruption, was brought up on this occasion.
Milena Milosevic, the researcher at the Institute Alternative, shared concerns over persistent clientelistic practices, which are illustrated by the cumbersome public sector and reluctance of stakeholders to rationalize administration.
“In Montenegro, police with over 400o officers has been traditionally used as a pool for party patronage. In September 2017, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) published a call for “Police Training” for 60 trainees, high school graduates, in order to prepare them for the immediate employment in the police while not undertaking a two-year long Police Academy’s program”, said Milosevic.
In order to illustrate the corruptive practices in the Western Balkans, particular attention was devoted to the public procurement procedures which are viewed by many as an area of significant risk for high-level corruption.
“In spite of the existing EU standards in the field of procurement within the Ministry of Interior in Serbia, we documented a number of faulty procurements, poor planning practice and a bad competition record, which in total causes significant dissatisfaction among police officers, decreases their capacity to fight crime and makes them more vulnerable to corruption.”, said Vladimir Erceg, a researcher at Belgrade Centre for Security Policy.
Following up on these findings, Redion Qirjazi, a researcher at the Institute for Democracy and Mediation from Tirana, emphasized the importance of improving the autonomy of the internal audit units and offered the appropriate recommendations in order to tackle the problems of informal and inexpedient practices in financial management within the Ministry of Interior.
The advocacy trip was organized within the framework of the German Council of Foreign Relations’ TRAIN program.