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Ever closer union – the Western Balkans and EU accession

MPs from the Western Balkans recently convened at a regional conference in Macedonia, united in their common goal of European Union (EU) membership. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss parliamentary oversight of the use of EU pre-accession funds. 

The politicians from Bosnia and Herzogovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania are all members of the Western Balkans Network of Committees of Economy, Finance and EU Integrationsupported by WFD and the Scottish Parliament.
The purpose of the network is to facilitate regional cooperation between Balkan countries that seek to meet requirements that could lead to EU accession.
Pre-accession funds are intended to prepare countries for EU integration which requires improvements in cross-border cooperation, standards in regional development, competitiveness and social inclusion. Aspiring members are also required to meet standards that will establish stable, democratic, multi-ethnic and open societies based on the rule of law.   

The network’s member parliaments however have limited oversight of the instrument for pre-accession (IPA) funds designated to assist them meet the criteria for membership. The central purpose of the Macedonia conference in Ohrid was to examine how the parliaments can strengthen oversight of IPA funds. The network members recognised the importance of the funding in preparing Western Balkans countries for future EU accession but also the role parliaments should play in the oversight of these funds.
The Macedonian Parliament shared a case study on their current inquiries into the use of IPA funds while Scottish MSP Liam McArthur gave an overview of the types of support and procedures a parliament of Scotland’s size requires for its members to conduct effective financial oversight.  

The network encouraged its members to develop a culture of regular annual oversight hearings around IPA and other EU funding which involve civil society in the oversight hearings.

The network is chaired on a rotational basis. The outgoing chair from Macedonia Ms Vladimir Marinkovic handed over responsibility to Serbian MP Vladimir Marinkovic. Mr Marinkovic commented that the significance of WFD’s role in the network is its provision of expertise in scrutinising parliamentary committees’ use of funds.  He also cited regional cooperation and economic integration as fundamental to both EU accession and peace and security in the Western Balkans.  

WFD and the Scottish Parliament provides support, capacity building and access to expertise as part of a three year programme of support to network members. During the conference WFD launched a guide and toolkit for members on the effective oversight of IPA funds.