Organized Crime, Corruption Frustrate Balkan EU Hopes
Organized crime and corruption are the biggest obstacles facing Western Balkan countries that seek EU membership, the European Commission (EC) said in its latest European Union enlargement strategy report, released Wednesday.
And the two obstacles are inextricably linked, the report noted. "The pervasiveness of corruption enables infiltration of organised crime groups into the public and private sector," it reads. "Corruption undermines the rule of law, impacts negatively on the business environment and national budgets and affects citizens’ everyday life in areas such as healthcare and education."
Noting that the recent Euro crisis highlighted national economies' interdependence, the EC's report emphasized that dysfunction caused by organized crime and corruption has far-reaching consequences. "Addressing risks of instability in the Western Balkans is manifestly in our joint interest," it said. "Strengthening stability and democracy in south-east Europe is also an investment in deep and sustainable democracy in the EU’s wider neighbourhood."
And since organized crime is fundamentally an international phenomenon, the EC recognizes that law enforcement must be as well. "The cross border nature of many criminal activities requires strong cooperation between law enforcement and judicial bodies in the region, with EU Member States and internationally," the report said.
Finally, the EC reported that inter-ethnic disputes continue to mar the process of reform in many Eastern European countries, undermining their attempts to achieve EU membership and also affecting the stability of the region as a whole.
The commission also released individualized progressed reports on countries seeking membership. Here are some highlights.
The Commission came down pretty hard on Turkey, which has enjoyed rather gentle treatment in previous reports. Referencing issues regarding freedom of expression, assembly and association, lengthy prosecution and detention periods and political solution to the Kurdish issue, the EC said "concerns are growing regarding Turkey’s lack of substantial progress towards fully meeting the political criteria."
Bosnia and Herzegovina:
"Limited progress has been made towards meeting the political criteria and achieving more functional, coordinated and sustainable institutional structures," the report said. ”The country’s leaders need to demonstrate the political will to reach consensus and to realise with concrete actions the EU aspirations of the country and its citizens."
The European Commission recommended that Albania receive official EU candidate status, conditional upon judicial and public administration reforms. For the past two years, Albania has been denied candidacy. Although some criticize the proposed parliamentary reforms for not going far enough to give a voice to the opposition party, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle focused on the advantages of EU membership. "Candidacy will be a victory for the government, for opposition, for all Albanians," he said in a press conference on Wednesday.
A feasibility study concluded that Kosovo can more forward with its path to candidacy despite the fact that EU member states disagree about its status. However, the EC did warn that Kosovo and Serbia must imporove relations or risk blocking each other in efforts to achieve candidacy.
Serbia became a candidate in March 2012, but in order to achieve membership, it needs to improve relations with Kosovo and reinvigorate reforms, the Commission said. Serbia needs "to pay particular attention to the rule of law, notably the judiciary where recent setbacks underline the need for renewed commitment to pursue reforms," the Enlargement report said.
Macedonia began accession talks in March 2012, and according to the report the government is making progress addressing key issues, which include freedom of expression, rule of law and ethnic relations, challenges for electoral reform, public administration reform, and strengthening of the market economy.
Montenegro began accession negotiations in June 2012, but, the EC says, it "needs to invest more effort to further develop a track record in the area of rule of law with the aim of irreversible reform implementation, in particular with respect to organised crime and corruption cases, including at high level."
Croatia is set to become an EU member state in July 2013, but has a list of reforms to deliver on before then. Those include strengthening the judicial sector and further privatizing industry.