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How Effective are EU Benchmarks for the Western Balkans? - Belgrade Conference

How Effective are EU Benchmarks for the Western Balkans? - Belgrade Conference

The final conference of the BENCHER project is being held today in Belgrade, hosted by the European Policy Centre in Belgrade. Below, we share with you some interesting points made during the discussion.

"We are facing shallow Europeanisation in the Western Balkans. The progress reports don't catch the substance and the gravity of the situation. Thus, the need to asses the #EC benchmarking mechanism.", said Ardita Abazi - Imeri, EPI's programme coordinator.

She added, "The countries do not have a concrete model or template of rule of law, and EU being too soft, leaves the governments space to misinterpret the meaning of rule of law. Interestingly, all countries were incentivised for visa liberalisation, since there were specific benchmarks and timeframe of implementation and rewards. Thus, there was will to implement reforms."

Igor Bandovic, Senior Manager at the European Fund for the Balkans, the project's donor, addressed at the conference. "The EU can reflect on itself only through the process of enlargement. We haven't had an enlargement since 2013, so it is a worrying trend in the EU."

Alida Vracic, Executive Director of Populari, Sarajevo said: "Can we ask ourselves how the EU is doing these days? That is one part of the story. The second part is that we have a regional problem - brain drain. Germany badly needs these people that we have invested in and they have open places at the moment. What i am calling is more of a realistic and less sentimental approach on how we as western Balkans are doing regarding the EU."

Endrit Shabani from the Oxford University pointed out what he sees as the biggest obstacle for the Western Balkans EU agenda. "Corruption is one of the biggest problems in Western Balkans - it's hard to change this, because the decision-makers often benefit from it. EU also need to be aware of its mistakes & to take more responsibility for situation in region."

Adnan Ćerimagić, an analyst at the European Stability Initiative, addressed the weakenesses in the EC approach. "European Comission should better communicate its findings and to explain why certain reforms are so important. Only then would citizens, government and judiciary have will to implement these reforms."

Follow the discussion live on Twitter at @epi_mk , @ThinkforEurope & #BencherConfBG.

EPI is the coordinator of BENCHER project, which is implemented by the Think for Europe Network members.