dr Dusko Lopandic, Ambassador of Serbia to the EU for EWB

Dr Duško Lopandić

The EU accession process of Serbia

Serbia was granted candidate status in March 2012, and opened accession negotiations at the first Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in January 2014. During his speech at the IGC, the Head of Serbian delegation, underlined Serbia’s ambition to conclude accession talks by the end of 2018, with the target year for accession set for 2020.

This goal remains unchanged. It is a realistic goal, based on the implementation of accepted obligations arising from the Stabilization and Association Agreement, but also on the comprehensive reform process being conducted by our government. We strongly believe that EU enlargement is in the mutual interest of EU member states and Serbia and that it is, indeed, a win-win policy. Serbia also has in mind the Commission’s new approach with regards to the enlargement negotiations, which implies a much stronger scrutiny of acquis implementation and a particular emphasis on the areas of judiciary, rule of law and home affairs, among other things.

Serbia started the accession negotiations at a relatively unfavorable time, given the economic and financial crisis that hit Europe and the euro-skepticism and “enlargement fatigue” that arose as one of its consequences. The time when enthusiasm and unequivocal political support were associated with the accession process of Central and Eastern European countries is far behind us; however, the previous enlargements have proved to be a success story, both for the EU as a whole and the new Member States.

Undoubtedly, the entire process of negotiations will contribute to the modernization and Europeanization of the Serbian public administration; it will enhance the competitiveness of its economy and advance the functioning of its democratic institutions, while opening new perspectives for the coming generations. At the same time, the accession of Serbia will have a beneficiary effect both on Union’s economy and stability in South East Europe.

In the meantime, Serbia has done a lot in terms of carrying out an intensive reform process in the economic, administrative and political field. The main goal is to do everything that is useful for our citizens while at the same time fulfilling the requirements stemming from the accession process. Reforms include legislative changes introduced in areas such as privatization, labor market and bankruptcy regulations, which are crucial for achieving consolidation, efficiency and growth of the market economy.

An extensive package of measures aimed at curbing fiscal deficit, restructuring failing state-owned companies and boosting competitiveness is underway.  Significant changes have been made recently in the area of media laws, which paved the way for transformation of public media companies’ ownership.

In the sphere of public administration reforms, Strategy for the Reform of Public Administration, adopted in January 2014, aims to create a comprehensive strategic framework for structuring a modern and efficient state administration. The accompanying action plan is being developed in close consultation with the European Commission. Steps were taken in the implementation of the 2013-2018 Strategy on judicial reform and its related Action Plan, aimed at ensuring a more efficient judicial system. There is a constant political support for the fight against corruption and organized crime, the latter being focused in particular to high-profile arrests within organized crime groups.

At the same time, the screening process has been carried out according to a set schedule. From the beginning in October 2013 – when, we could argue, the negotiations process actually started – 15 chapters have been fully screened and screenings of 9 more chapters have been partially completed. Overall, the screening process is expected to be completed by March 2015.

In parallel, we are also making preparations for a new phase of the negotiations, i.e. the opening of the chapters. This means that we are beginning to outline our first negotiating positions and action plans for the areas we expect to be first covered by screening reports. We have already prepared the opening of the chapter 32 by the end of this year and now it is up to the Member States to decide whether it will be opened by the end of 2014 or early in 2015. When it comes to chapters 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) Serbia’s draft action plans received positive comments. We hope to open these chapters early next year.

There is one very particular situation related to the Serbian negotiations, and that is the chapter 35 which used to be reserved, in previous enlargement cases, for “other issues”; in our case, this chapter is dealing with the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Serbia remains committed to the dialogue and to the implementation of the agreements reached so far within its framework, which is monitored through this chapter.

Among our priorities is to ensure transparency and inclusiveness of the negotiation process, which means that we will seek advice from all stakeholders within negotiation groups, including the representatives of the Parliement, the civil society, the business community etc.

European integration is a long process requiring not only mobilization of the entire state administration but of the society as a whole. This is a historic enterprise for an entire generation and will determine, to a large extent, the lives of our children and grandchildren. EU accession negotiations have been more or less complicated for all countries, and for Serbia they might even be a little more complicated.

The recent Progress report on Enlargement countries, issued by the European Commission, has also acknowledged the smooth progress of Serbian reforms and of negotiations. We are looking forward to the European Council in December 2014, whose positive conclusions would pave the way for the smooth continuation of the negotiations process in 2015.

Author: Ambassador dr Duško Lopandić, Head of the Mission of Republic of Serbia to the European Union