“The fundamentals first” approach announced in 2013 places the focus of the EU integration process on democracy and the rule of law. This mechanism relies on extensive system of benchmarking, which was developed for Romania and Bulgaria in the post-accession period (Cooperation and Verification Mechanism), while now it is being implemented for each chapter of the EU’s acquis under negotiation. Accordingly, benchmarks represent a set of
requirements for accession negotiations for chapters of the acquis – opening and closing benchmarks (and interim benchmarks for Chapter 23 Judiciary and Fundamental rights and Chapter 24 Justice, Freedom and Security). The aim of such approach is at one side, to aid the candidate countries by making the requirements more concrete and on the other side to facilitate the process of assessment of progress achieved and thus navigate and give directions
to the accession process. Moreover, benchmarks have been introduced for the countries that are yet to open accession negotiations without actually enjoying the benefits of negotiations. Thus, benchmarking has become the key mechanism of EU conditionality policy towards the Western Balkans (WB6) that should ensure the consistency and credibility of this policy, while providing encouragement for further reform. Although this mechanism has already been implemented for a decade, its results have not yet been systematically assessed.
The analyses, made within BENCHER Project represent a first major attempt to critically evaluate the degree to which the objectives are achieved and the extent to which targeted problems are solved in order to further advance in the EU accession process. The purpose is to highlight and compare the key developments in relation to the selected benchmarks in the six countries, whereas an in-depth discussion of the benchmarks in the separate countries is to be found in the national studies.