Drawing on the policy-transfer literature, where processes such as Europeanization accentuate the role of policy networks as facilitators or constraints in the implementation of acquis, in addition to the familiar mechanism of “conditionality”, the principal objective of this article is to explore the challenges of policy learning toward administrative-capacity building and, more specifically, the role of what I refer to here as “donor-bureaucrat-contractor” networks in the Western Balkans. By employing a qualitative methodology consisting of forty semi-structured interviews and focus groups with policymakers, donor officers, civil-society experts and consultants in the region during the period of January 2011 to December 2016, a critical analysis of aid-supported policy learning via training as a conduit to administrative capacity-building reveals a series of context-specific dimensions, such as the informality of such networks, overreliance on local NGOs as “capacitybuilding” implementation partners and the ability of the context to affect donor behaviour - all ultimately contributing to the (non-) occurrence of policy transfer. Th e overarching conclusion this article draws is that potential answers to problems with aid-supported policy learning in the region may probably lie in the invisible workings of the aforementioned networks rather than solely in the official channels of communication between Brussels and regional governments. From a policymaking standpoint, this conclusion in itself may as well be construed as a recommendation to mobilize future research surrounding the impact of such networks on European Union (EU) accession processes in the region. Th is may encourage research organizations both in the EU and the region to (re) orient future endeavors towards this dimension of administrative capacity-building - a core requirement for EU accession - especially as the EU itself faces its own enlargement dilemmas following Brexit while the region faces threats of a potential revival of “old” ethnic conflicts, both affecting the progress of administrative reforms and prospects of EU accession.
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