European Court of Auditors flags concerns over EU's €6bn package for Western Balkans

European Court of Auditors flags concerns over EU's €6bn package for Western Balkans
ECA says better protection measures are needed to safeguard the additional EU funds to help the region's progress towards EU accession. / European Union, 2024
By bne IntelliNews February 15, 2024

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has raised concerns about the proposed €6bn Reform and Growth Facility for Western Balkan countries, warning that better protection measures are necessary to safeguard the additional EU funds intended for aiding the region's progress towards EU accession.

The facility, proposed by the European Commission as part of the New Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, aims to bolster economic growth, enhance socio-economic convergence with EU member states and expedite alignment with EU values and laws in preparation for future accession. However, the ECA's opinion points to potential pitfalls in the implementation of the facility.

Laima Liucija Andrikienė, the ECA member overseeing the opinion, raised concerns about the efficacy and sustainability of the disbursement conditions, highlighting the risk that they may not be ambitious enough or adequately measurable. "It also remains difficult to ensure that reforms will be sustainable, particularly in view of the region’s weak administrative capacity," Andrikienė said.

While welcoming the introduction of stricter funding conditions tied to the fulfilment of Reform Agendas, to be prepared by the beneficiary countries and to be approved by the European Commission, the auditors stressed the need for clearer and more measurable indicators. They also recommended that the European Commission have the authority to compel Western Balkan governments to revise and adjust their reform agendas accordingly.

In comments emailed to bne IntelliNews, the ECA said that in the past, the European Commission had not used conditionality systematically in the past.

Furthermore, the auditors proposed the development of comprehensive guidelines for evaluating the satisfactory fulfilment of payment conditions outlined in the reform agendas.

The proposed facility, slated to provide up to €6bn in support from 2024 to 2027, represents a substantial increase in funding for Western Balkan countries, exceeding 40% of the total amount earmarked for the region until 2027. This comes in addition to over €14bn already allocated to pre-accession countries, including Turkey, in the current EU budget.

While acknowledging the rationale behind the facility and the accompanying growth plan, the auditors noted the absence of an impact assessment or analytical document to evaluate the likelihood of the €6bn support contributing effectively to the facility's objectives.

The ECA called for clarifications on certain provisions regarding the European Court of Auditors' audit rights, as well as access to data and documentation to ensure adequate oversight.