EU funds spent on Serbia’s reforms were managed efficiently by the European Commission, the European Court of Auditors’ special report published today (13 January), concludes. But future projects could be better planned and executed, said the auditors.
The EU launched formal talks with Serbia to join the union only a year ago.
With the accession negotiations underway, during the 2007-2013 period, Serbia received about €1.2 billion in aid to help adapt its legislation to EU rules and prepare for Union membership. The responsibility to choose projects that would help Serbia gradually align its laws with the EU framework lies with the Commission.
The highest allocation of the block’s funds went to projects aimed at restructuringpublic administration, improving people’s well-being, and making environmental and energy reforms.
“The EU-Serbia dialogue created a link between political priorities and policy formulation,” said Szabolcs Fazakas, the European Court of Auditors member responsible for the report.
“Learning from its past pre-accession support, the Commission successfully supported Serbia in addressing key areas such as good governance, the rule of law and the fight against corruption.”
After assessing more than 15 EU-funded initiatives, the auditors found that Serbia has made progress in the implementation of the social and economic reforms under the funds managed by the European Commission.
However, governance projects, including schemes to improve the police sector, fight against corruption, reform the judiciary and the public procurement office, could have been better planned.
“On the whole, the audited projects delivered their planned outputs, but suffered from weaknesses regarding their design, implementation and sustainability,” said the European Court of Auditors.
The auditors found that a number of projects had either unrealistic goals or vaguely defined objectives. For example, implementing an e-procurement system was too ambitious a project at the time, and improving the Ministry of Health lacked a well-defined action plan as how to achieve it.
While the Commission acknowledged “some design-related shortcomings” in its reply to the auditor’s assessment, it admitted in having difficulties in employing and retaining professional staff in administrative structures in a candidate country.
Following the analysis, the report offers further recommendations for the executives’s branch upcoming missions.
According to the auditors, the European Commission should be more transparent when selecting future projects. It should work closer with the Serbian authorities in identifying problematic sectors, and create a database with best-practices to be used in future enlargement cases.
The progress of the accession negotiations, however, don’t only depend on the Commission. Serbia also has to deliver on the reforms agreed to with the EU, notably in the fight against corruption, and to recognize Kosovo.