The promises we keep: monitoring anti-corruption pledges in the Western Balkans

On 10 November 2020, leaders of the Western Balkan countries took part in the Sofia summit co-chaired by Bulgaria and North Macedonia within the Berlin Process. This process was introduced in 2014 with the aim of facilitating regional cooperation among the countries of the Western Balkans and boosting European integration and security. Every year, political leaders from the Western Balkans and the EU gather to work towards achieving greater security, stability, integration and prosperity in the region. Fighting corruption has been a priority of the Berlin Process. But are states living up to their commitments?

There was a comprehensive discussion of corruption and its impact on the region at the 2017 Trieste summit. The meeting concluded with a joint declaration by the Italian chair and the governments of the Western Balkan countries on their common commitment to fight corruption. In it, they acknowledged that ‘corruption is a challenge for all our societies’ and said that the ‘time is ripe for an enhanced effort to meet the vast demand for integrity, respect for and predictability of the rule of law in our Countries’.1

At the July 2018 summit in London, the Western Balkan countries (minus Serbia, which signed in 2019) went one step further by making anti-corruption pledges. The chair welcomed these promises, noting that ‘corruption hinders economic growth and investment, weakens democratic institutions, destroys public confidence and undermines the rule of law’.2 The pledges covered topics like public-private partnerships, public procurement, tax, whistleblowing, beneficial ownership, asset recovery and enforcement capabilities. These commitments were not new but reinforced those already made in the context of other initiatives, such as the 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit, the first Global Declaration against Corruption, recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption, and European Commission recommendations made as part of the EU accession process.

Anti-corruption was again on the agenda at the 2019 summit in Poznań. Although the Western Balkan countries did not formally establish an independent review mechanism, they did reach an understanding on the need for measurable progress in implementing their anti-corruption commitments. A side event highlighted civil society’s role in helping to monitor implementation.

An independent regional assessment on corruption in the Western Balkans was undertaken as a follow-up to the Poznań summit, with the support of the government of the UK. National experts working in partnership with the GI-TOC analyzed corruption and its impact on governance in each Western Balkans Six country. They conducted interviews with stakeholders, including representatives of the criminal-justice sector, civil society, academia and the media. In the process, the authors discovered that there was little knowledge of the anti-corruption pledges, either among the general public or within government agencies responsible for their implementation. It was also not evident which government bodies were responsible or accountable for monitoring implementation.

A recently published executive summary of findings on corruption and anti-corruption pledges in the Western Balkans by the GI-TOC shows that corruption ‘is both a cause and consequence of a criminal culture that permeates the region, and the way that corruption is linked to politics suggests a degree of organized corruption, and even elements of state capture, in a number of countries in the region’.3

An assessment of the extent to which governments of the Western Balkans are living up to their anti-corruption commitments highlights progress in some countries and in some areas, while there has been no progress or even backsliding in others. A forthcoming GI-TOC report will review implementation of the commitments in all six countries. Regular tracking of the implementation of the anti-corruption pledges should help close the gap between promises made and promises kept.


  1. Berlin Process, Joint Declaration Against Corruption, Trieste Summit 12 July 2017,

  2. Berlin Process, Chair’s Conclusions of the Heads’ meeting of the London Western Balkans Summit, Western Balkans Summit in London, 10 July 2018,’s-Conclusions-of-the-Heads’-meeting-of-the-London-Western-Balkans-Summit-10-July-2018.pdf

  3. Ugljesa Ugi Zvekic and Suncana Roksandic Vidlicka, Infrastructure of Integrity: Corruption and anti-corruption pledges in the Western Balkans, Executive Summary, GI-TOC, October 2020.