$795M Poured Into Western Balkans to Improve Rule of Law Has Little Impact Report Finds

European Union auditors released a report finding that the 700 million euros, or $795 million, the bloc has provided to assist six Western Balkan nations has not brought significant change.

The European Court of Auditors, the EU's financial management institution, published the 52-page report Monday. It said the EU funds from 2014 to 2020 had done little to improve issues in non-member nations Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.

"EU support for the rule of law in Western Balkans has clearly not been successful in bringing about wholesale change," Juhan Parts, the report's author, said.

The report added that while there were "some positive recent developments, mainly in Albania and North Macedonia," issues such as corruption, judicial independence and concentration of power were still prevalent in all six nations.

In a statement, the ECA suggested the EU might need to take stronger action to try to change this trend, as its investments had not impacted society the way it had intended.

"The EU has too rarely exploited the possibility of suspending assistance if a beneficiary fails to observe the basic principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights," it said.

European Union, leaders
European Union auditors say that the hundreds of millions of funds that the bloc has poured into six Western Balkan nations to improve the rule of law there didn't pay off. Here, European Council President Charles Michel, front right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, front left, walk with leaders of the Western Balkans prior to a group photo in Brussels on February 16, 2020. Virginia Mayo, File/AP Photo

Faced with myriad problems on their own, the EU's 27 members have been dragging their feet to embrace the six nations and bring membership closer. At the same time, the influence of China and Russia has increased in the volatile region.

The report showed how little has been achieved with 700 million euros in aid to revamp institutions from 2014 to 2020. Even more was spent over the past two decades, when the nations had emerged from Communist rule, war and internal strife and were enticed to lay the groundworks of a Western democracy.

If any nation wants to become an EU member, it has to commit to thousands of rules and regulations already in use in the bloc. During the membership application, they are negotiated in separate chapters and include respect for the rule of law and democratic standards, media freedom and judicial independence, and the implementation of socio-economic reforms.

The study, with its often stinging criticism, comes at a time when the momentum of EU enlargement has grinded to a halt, both because current members are too inward looking at a time of pandemic angst, and authoritarian streaks are running stronger through some governments in the region.

The prospect of membership has been a powerful driving force for reforms in the Balkans since the former Yugoslavia disintegrated into war in the early 1990s. Croatia and Slovenia have joined, but the EU hasn't expanded since 2013.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.