Rule of Law Challenges in the Western Balkans
Establishing the rule of law remains a key challenge in the Western Balkans. Progress in the region, while different across countries, is slow (Mendelski, 2018; Milošević and Muk, 2016). The rule of law criterion has emerged as one of the top priorities and key concerns in EU enlargement policies for the region (Elbasani and Šabić, 2017). The EU Commission’s new enlargement strategy emphasises that “the rule of law must be strengthened significantly” (EC, 2018). Strengthening the rule of law is not only an institutional issue, but also requires societal transformation in the countries and incorporation of particular fundamental values into daily culture (Hoxhaj, 2018). This report discusses the key challenges faced by countries in the Western Balkans in the area of rule of law and the experience of relevant reform efforts. Given the breadth of this topic, the report is based on a review of literature published during the past five years. They comprise primarily of academic literature, NGO reports, and EC and US government status reports. There are very limited donor evaluations or discussions of particular projects and programming readily available. In addition, academic and NGO literature rarely refer to specific donor projects and programmes, but rather discuss reforms more generally. A key commonality in academic and NGO literature is the critique that donors have not paid sufficient attention in their reform efforts to issues of pervasive politicisation and historical legacies in the region that impinge on the current culture and environment. There has also been inadequate attention to the need for accountability. As such, reform progress can be constrained. In some instances, reforms may even produce negative unintended consequences, such as by pushing for strong, independent judicial councils, when members are still politicised and subject to political influences.