There was no noticeable improvement in democratic consolidation, human rights, and the rule of law, though Albania passed a critical test.
Europeans closely monitor the region’s democratic performance and there is a broad consensus that enlargement policy should be based on the strict application of membership conditionality. That empowers the European Commission, as well as the European Parliament, to drive policy, and no member states come out in favour of a more lax approach reflective of strategic interest. But there was no noticeable improvement in 2013 and long-term challenges persisted. The only bright spot was Albania, where the June elections saw a smooth transfer of power from the incumbent Democrat Party of Sali Berisha to the opposition Socialists headed by Edi Rama (also see component 33). Though there was some violence in the run-up to the election, the smooth transition represented progress: both the parliamentary polls of 2009 and the 2011 municipal elections had been contested and led to a political standoff that lasted for months. Represented by a European Parliament mission, the EU played a positive, moderating role. In Montenegro, on the other hand, the opposition contested the outcome of the tight presidential race that gave Filip Vujanović a third term.
Elsewhere concerns remained, including about the capacity of opposition to compete and hold governments accountable. Macedonia’s Social Democrats boycotted parliament for more than three months after their members of parliament were evicted from the chamber during the budget vote in December 2012. Only mediation from Füle, then European Parliament member Jerzy Buzek and country rapporteur Richard Howitt (also an MEP) convinced them to return and take part in the local elections in March–April. In September, Serbia banned a gay-pride rally in Belgrade for the third consecutive year, citing threats of right-wing violence. Fears are also growing that Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić’s anti-corruption crusade might compromise democratic rules. Bosnia’s first post-war census exposed lingering tensions between the ethnic communities, though popular protest against the legislative deadlock preventing newborn children from acquiring citizen numbers proves there is space for civic politics across communal boundaries.