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Policy Dialogue
Marking the benchmarks: Promoting and enforcing the rule of law in the Balkans

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Since its 2011 enlargement strategy, the European Commission has adopted a more rigorous approach to democratic conditionality, building mostly on lessons learned from its eastward expansion. The EU’s increased focus on ‘good governance’ criteria (such as the rule of law, independent judiciary, media freedom and efficient public administration) was formally reflected for the first time in the negotiation frameworks for Montenegro and Serbia, which require that Chapter 23 (on the Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and Chapter 24 (on Justice, Freedom and Security) are opened in the early stages of the talks and closed only at the very end of the process, and that overall progress is conditioned by progress in these fields. Moreover, the increased emphasis on issues relating to the rule of law can now also be felt in the pre-accession phases.

Despite the EU’s firm insistence on democratic reforms, all of the applicants in the region, including the front-running countries, have been backsliding. By assessing the effectiveness of the benchmarking mechanism on Chapters 23 and 24, the BENCHER project, funded by the European Fund for the Balkans and co-financed by the Open Society Initiative for Europe, seeks to explain the mixed results in the EU’s attempts to induce compliance, exploring whether the Union is more successful in some sub-policy areas than in others, and why.

How is the EU helping candidates to achieve progress on rule of law reforms? To what extent are the current benchmarks appropriate? What more can be done to improve the track record of democratic conditionality in practice throughout the Balkans, so that results match up to the rhetoric? This Policy Dialogue addressed these and other questions, drawing on the results of the BENCHER regional comparative study.

Speakers included: Corina Stratulat, Senior Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre, Albana Rexha, Senior Research Fellow, Group for Legal and Political Studies, Pristina, Sabine Zwaenepoel, Senior Expert, Team Leader of Centre of Thematic Expertise, DG NEAR, European Commission, Tanja Fajon, Member of the European Parliament, Srdjan Majstorovic, President of the Governing Board, CEP Belgrade.

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