The EU has the capacity to be the regional stabilising factor for anti-corruption reforms throughout the Western Balkans and a crucial player in the fight against the growing threat of authoritarianism. With the Brdo declaration of the EU-Western Balkans summit, the EU reaffirmed its support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans, and underlined that the EU support will continue to be linked to tangible progress on the rule of law and socio-economic reforms.
Still, the EU future of the Western Balkans countries remains uncertain, due to backsliding of reforms and widespread corruption and state capture. SELDI’s Corruption Monitoring System (CMS) results for 2021 confirm that corruption in the region is not abating. The anti-corruption progress achieved in the Western Balkans between the early 2000s and mid-2010s has now been reversed with most measures of administrative corruption indicating an increase. Self-reported involvement in corruption in the Western Balkans remains very high – 20-40% of the citizens admit to having paid some kind of a bribe. Tolerance of corruption by the general public, although on the wane, is still high, ranging between 25% and 40%. CMS results for 2021 also reveal that more than half of the population has lost hope in the feasibility of anti-corruption policy responses. Thus, the CMS finings yet again point to the need to guarantee that the economic benefits of greater EU integration do not land in the pockets of a small clique of state capture actors.