The recent decision of the European Council not to open the EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania has led to many a criticism both from the Western Balkans states (herein WB6) and some of the leading EU officials. The decision was motivated primarily by French President Macron’s belief that the enlargement process is flawed as it fails to bring transformation to the WB6 states, and that the EU should first reform itself before it proceeds to further enlargement. The critics have pointed out that the decision is a ‘historical mistake’ and that it leaves the region open to the influence of other international actors such as Russia, Turkey and China.
Less attention, however, has been paid to the consequences that the decision might entail for the rule of law and its promotion in the WB6 region. While most of the criticism of the process has been reserved for domestic actors and their unwillingness to implement EU driven reforms, much of the recent criticism focuses on the role that the EU itself has had. The EU influence is perceived as ‘stabilitocratic’, by strengthening the existing regimes which are hostile towards rule of law and democracy or, even pathological, as it does not pay sufficient attention to the breach of procedural rights of those prosecuted for corruption. It is argued that, even for the states that have advanced forward in the enlargement process, such as Montenegro and Serbia, the protection of some fundamental rights and freedoms has not been strengthened but weakened. Progress in the enlargement process through the opening of the negotiation chapters did not equal progress in the strength of the rule of law and quality of governance. It seems that Bosnia and Kosovo, while not being granted candidacy status, are not that far away in terms of standards in either of the two areas or, at least, less backsliding has been recorded there than in Serbia and Montenegro which remain the only two states among the WB6 that have opened the chapters of the acquis. Also, many of the proposed reforms, such as the introduction of the judicial councils, have been overvalued to begin with and have not led to either an increase of trust in the judiciary or to it becoming more independent and willing to tackle organized crime and corruption. Continue reading