SKOPJE – What do recent US anti-corruption efforts mean for the Western Balkans? What are the expected effects of increased attention to the fight against corruption? Can we expect this attention to put the fight against corruption higher on local government agendas? What can the EU and US do to prevent a return to democracy and promote good governance to push back authoritarian influence and corrosive capital in the region?
The European Union has invested in improving governance and the rule of law in the Western Balkans and committed up to $30 billion to its new economic and investment plan. The EU and its Member States have significant leverage potential through conditionality and assistance mechanisms, given the ambition of the Western Balkan States to join the European Union. The EU must ensure that candidate countries have good, resilient governance if they are to be constructive members of the Union.
At the same time, through its Democracy Action Plan and the Rule of Law Report, the EU has strengthened the case for better governance within the Union, demonstrating a stronger commitment to candidate countries.
The EU and the United States have cooperated to advance good governance and the democratic development agenda in the transatlantic space, enabling positive changes in Southeast Europe. The impact of any current and future aid depends on improved governance.
On December 7, the United States announced its Anti-Corruption Strategy, a whole-of-government approach to stepping up the fight against corruption. In June 2021, President Biden identified fighting corruption as a critical national security interest of the United States. The White House launched its “Democracy Summit” for a select group of invited governments in December 2021, with the fight against corruption as a central pillar of this effort. The Summit encourages partner countries to take specific and concrete actionable measures within a year.
On the path to broader European integration, Western Balkan countries have the opportunity to improve regional cooperation between critical anti-corruption authorities, mainly within law enforcement and prevention institutions. This would demonstrate an organic commitment to the rule of law and create an environment in which national actors contribute to regional development.
At the same time, rising geopolitical tensions risk diverting resources and attention away from domestic reforms, which could make it more difficult to implement anti-corruption efforts.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a good example and a game changer for EU enlargement: will the Western Balkans remain firmly aligned with European and transatlantic values? It is both a threat and an opportunity. It is up to the EU and local governments, as well as civil society and other democratic actors, to make progress in these difficult times.
These are some of the topics that will be discussed at the Regional Policy Forum. The event is organized by the Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” in Skopje, the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation on behalf of the South East European Leadership Network for Development and Integrity (SELDI) , and is supported by the European Union Delegation in Skopje, the “Fighting Corruption: Western Balkans in Brief” project supported by the United States Embassy in North Macedonia and USAID through its civic engagement project.
These topics will be discussed during the Regional Policy Forum “The fight against corruption: Western Balkans in the spotlight”, which will take place on April 7, 2022 at the Holiday Inn hotel in Skopje as a hybrid event.
The aim of the event is to build momentum on necessary and ongoing anti-corruption reforms and to discuss ways to improve cooperation between international, governmental and civic actors. The event will bring together justice ministers from the Western Balkans, civil society leaders, editors from investigative journalism bureaus, international representatives from the US, EU, UN and the region.