In its efforts to strengthen the rule of law and generate judicial reform in the candidate and potential candidate states of the Western Balkans, the EU places emphasis on the ‘quality, independence and efficiency’ of the judiciary (European Commission 2015a). It also makes a clear link between robust judicial systems and sustainable economic growth and political and social stability. The success of judicial reforms could not, therefore, be more central to the EU enlargement strategy for the region. In practice, the EU’s approach is based on ensuring the robustness of formal institutions and processes, particularly with regard to bolstering bodies responsible for the training and recruitment of judges. Based on empirical and comparative analysis of countries in the region, it is argued here that although there is evidence of success, the EU’s approach generates sub-optimal outputs; a combination of unintended consequences and unrealized effects. This is due largely to the fact that the EU adopts a somewhat ‘Archimedean’ approach, namely the creation of new separate judicial bodies that stand above politics and are separate to existing judicial institutions and processes as a means of breaking political interference. This approach triggers an inevitable tension between democratic checks and balances, and independence.
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