SKOPJE – What do recent US anti-corruption efforts mean for the Western Balkans? What are the expected effects of an increased focus on the fight against corruption? Can we expect this attention to put the fight against corruption higher on the agenda of local governments? What can the EU and US do to prevent democratic backsliding and promote good governance to push back against 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 has committed up to 30 billion in its new economic and investment plan. The EU and Member States have significant potential leverage through conditionality and assistance mechanisms, given the ambition of 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, signaling a stronger commitment strong towards the candidate countries.
The EU and the US have cooperated to advance good governance and the democratic development agenda in the transatlantic area, enabling positive change in South Eastern Europe. The impact of all current and future aid depends on improving governance.
On December 7, the United States announced its Anti-Corruption Strategy as a whole-of-government approach to elevate the fight against corruption. In June 2021, President Biden identified the fight against corruption as a fundamental 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 the effort. The Summit encourages partner countries to take specific and concrete actions that can be achieved within one year.
On the way to wider European integration, the Western Balkan countries have the opportunity to improve regional cooperation between critical anti-corruption authorities, mainly in law enforcement and prevention institutions. This would signal an organic commitment to the rule of law and provide an environment in which national actors contribute to regional development.
At the same time, growing geopolitical tensions can divert resources and attention away from domestic reforms, potentially making anti-corruption efforts more difficult to achieve.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a strong and game-changing example 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 a difference 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’ Skopje, the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation on behalf of the South East European Development and Integrity Leadership Network (SELDI), and is supported by the European Union Delegation in Skopje, the project “The Fight Against Corruption: The Western Balkans in Focus” supported by the United States Embassy in North Macedonia and USAID through its civic engagement.
These topics will be discussed at the Regional Policy Forum “Fighting Corruption: Western Balkans in Brief”, 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 for ongoing and needed anti-corruption reforms and to discuss ways to improve cooperation between international, governmental and civic actors. The event will bring together Western Balkan justice ministers, civil society leaders, investigative journalist bureau editors, international representatives from the US, EU, UN and the region. .