Fighting corruption is failing in EU accession countries in the Western Balkans and Turkey
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 10.11.2016 The fight against corruption in the Western Balkans and Turkey is failing, putting European Union accession at risk. Political elites have too much power and there are limited ways to hold the corrupt to account, according to Transparency International, the global anti-corruption movement.
The new report National Integrity Systems in the Western Balkans and Turkey: Priorities for Reform (http://bit.ly/2elTweW) compares the findings of seven National Integrity System assessments implemented by Transparency International chapters and partners in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. It looks at how fit-for-purpose are the institutions in these countries for fighting corruption.
 
 
“The key problem is the lack of independence of the judicial processes and the enormous power held by political leaders over most institutions. An independent and effective judiciary, aided by free, critical media and strong civil society are vital to upholding the rule of law and to stamping out corruption. Too often the political elites can simply avoid prosecution for corruption or even exposure of their corrupt actions,” said Cornelia Abel, Regional Coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at Transparency International.
 
Levels of corruption and weak governance in the Western Balkans and Turkey undermine stability in a fragile region that is today already in a precarious state on the edge of a region engulfed in war, according to Transparency International.  
 
The EU must ensure that it is stringent in accession negotiations around judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice freedom as detailed in the EU accession process for chapters 23 and 24.
 
Although many of the countries in the study have taken important steps to develop and strengthen their anti-corruption systems, progress has been slow and mostly only on paper. Laws have been introduced but they have not been implemented. Media independence and civil society are also under threat.
The research for the report was finished before the failed coup in Turkey and the ensuing crackdown on the media and opposition. But the trend to concentrate power in the political leadership, weaken the ability of law enforcement to prosecute corruption and limit press freedom is apparent in all the countries studied.   
 
The report finds that political parties are the least transparent players. They hold the most power and yet are hardly ever sanctioned for corrupt actions. This has a strong influence over the other pillars of the National Integrity System. Breaches of election and campaign regulations are almost never sanctioned and those with money can influence elections.
 
“Countries cannot just pass laws that promise to fight corruption; they have to act on those laws. We do not see that happening consistently across the Western Balkans and in Turkey. If the countries are serious about joining the European Union, corruption has to be sanctioned and independent actors – like the judiciary -- must be strengthened now,” said Transparency International’s Abel.
 
The report makes the following key recommendations:
 
* Executive influence over the judiciary and prosecution must be reduced by ensuring more transparent and objective systems for the appointment, transferral and dismissal of judges and prosecutors.
 
* All allegations of threats and violence against the media and civil society representatives must be investigated without delay and strict sentences must be applied where these are proved to be well-founded.
 
* There must be stronger and more coordinated oversight of political party activity and campaign finances. Violations of electoral and campaign regulations must be consistently punished.