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EU Rule of Law initiative is struggling to make an impact, new paper argues

The EU “Rule of Law” initiative aimed at encouraging social and political reform in the Western Balkans is struggling to make an impact in the face of domestic political indifference, and opposition to perceived external interference, argues a new paper from Western Balkans expert Dr Andi Hoxhaj.

In The EU Rule of Law Initiative Towards the Western Balkans, Dr Hoxhaj explores how the EU enlargement framework has developed over the years for the Western Balkans, discusses the new accession framework adopted by the EU in March 2020 under pressure from France, and offers some suggestions as to how the initiative for the Western Balkans could be improved to become a more comprehensive and transformative instrument, based on an in-depth analysis of the approach adopted in Albania.

Dr Hoxhaj argues that the initiative is struggling to make headway as it has mainly been a top-down approach, focused on dialogue between the Commission and Western Balkans political leaders rather than one which seeks broad political consensus and engages a full range of stakeholders including civil society groups.

Dr Hoxhaj said: “The EU has made it clear that judicial reform is required as a condition of the Western Balkans countries making progress towards accession.

“With Albania as a case study, my paper reveals that there is a significant gap between passing reform legislation and actually implementing these changes in practice.

“The EU rule of law initiative for the Western Balkans has great potential to support the Western Balkans states to resolve internal issues such as corruption in the judicial and political systems, but in order to achieve lasting progress the EU should also focus on institutional capacity-building, investment in judicial infrastructure to improve access to justice for citizens, and a stronger role for civil society.”

The EU enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans was adopted in 2018 with a particular focus on part of the EU initiative to strengthen the rule of law in the six countries of the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo.

19 November 2020

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