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EUROPEAN UNION – SERBIA STABILISATION and ASSOCIATION PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE (SAPC) 2nd meeting: inside view

The Second meeting of the joint EU – Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee was held on 26th and 27nd November 2014 in Strasbourg. In comparison to the previous meeting, held by the end of 2013 in Belgrade, the membership of the Parliamentary committee comprising National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and European Parliament was a new one. The general topic of the meeting was certainly defined by the familiar framework: Stabilization and Association Agreement governing accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union and, also, the issues relating to the overall process. The new meeting – of the new participants – was held in the light of new circumstances.  

Over the period following the previous meeting in Belgrade, Serbia has officially commenced accession negotiations with the EU; screenings relating to the large number of negotiations’ chapters began, in case of certain chapters screenings were successfully completed  and by adoption of negotiating position Serbia fulfilled all the conditions  determined  for opening the Chapter 32 – on the point of the two delegations meeting, and the Common EU Position  for the same chapter was undergoing the procedure of approval.  Among the new circumstances of this meeting one must certainly mention the results Serbia achieved at the internal level: by adoption of new regulations, created in line with the recommendations and good practice experience of the European Union, including new achievements in the field of the protection of human rights and freedoms. Current foreign policy situation, both in the Western Balkans region, and on the continent, broadly speaking, comprised the significant aspect for taking a full overview. These inspiring topics, undoubtedly, offered a good reason to the Committee to present its members with very substantial agenda.

By the same reason, the Committee members faced with a very intensive agenda.  The chair of the first working day meeting was Mr. Eduard Kukan, co-chairman of the EU- Serbia SAPC, EP Foreign Affairs Committee, diplomat of enviable experience and highly appreciated politician on a global scale. The meeting was addressed by: Mr Alberto Cutallo, Deputy Director General/Principal Director for European Integration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Italy, on behalf of the Presidency-in-Office of the Council of the European Union;  Mr Jean-Eric Paquet, Director for the Western Balkans, DG Enlargement, on behalf of the European Commission, and  Ms Tanja Miščević, Head of the Negotiating Team for the Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the EU, on behalf of the Government of Serbia.  Along the defined topics of the meeting, mediators – members of delegations took part in the discussion: eminent connoisseurs of the subject issues, including the chairs and deputy chairs of the line parliamentary Committees, with the participation of many members of the joint parliamentary committee from both sides. The following topics were scheduled for the first working day: State of play of EU-Serbia relations; EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and place of Serbia; Serbia’s role in strengthening regional cooperation and Comprehensive economic reforms.

The main impression of all the participants was formed soon, immediately upon the onset of the first working day, and it was additionally confirmed as the day went on: an excellent atmosphere of the meeting, fully appropriate to the meeting of good friends who did not meet for some time. It was an occasion when great messages were voiced from MEP’s belonging to various political groups of the European parliament: relating to the appreciation of efforts undertaken by Serbia and support to good results stemming thereof, as well as relating to strengthening the common values and introduction of good quality standards being the most important both for EU and Serbia. The committee members of both delegations have unanimously highlighted the significant progress in international relations development, Serbia’s participation in EU civil and military missions,  central role played by Serbia in the process of furthering relations among the Western Balkan states, and the support to courageous, progressive economic measures introduced in the Republic of Serbia in the course of 2014. The entire first part of the meeting passed in the atmosphere of exceptional mutual understanding, consensus concerning the common path to future and in the cordial, open and creative discussions on all important topics on the table.

The end of the first working day was at the same time the end for tabling amendments to the joint Declaration text: a document that shall be adopted before the closure of each meeting, according to the rules of procedure of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, and its conclusions have supreme significance for the overall assessment of the Process of Stabilization and Association of Serbia to the European Union, representing the kind of a crown of each of these meetings.

Following the meeting a joint dinner for the delegations members  was given by the curtesy of the host Mr Kukan – which was an occasion for a pleasant break from the formal agenda,  but, also, for the continuation of excellent exchange of opinion.  During the dinner the representatives of the two delegations raised joint toast to: more than successful first day of the meeting and to it’s the more successful continuation the next day.  Despite the numerous amendments tabled by the Committee members to the Joint Declaration text that was to be adopted at the end of the meeting (by their amendments the European Parliament members underscored primarily the need for additional alignment of the official policies of the two parties and further introduction of high standards, while the NARS representatives underlined by their amendments the significant achievements made, regarding  the issues for the sake of the continued development of the overall relations EU- Serbia and the achieved standards), it was more than obvious: that largest possible level  of common understanding was reached, to the obvious satisfaction of all participants. That reality, undeniably, facilitated the job of the chairmen – the synergy of ideas of the delegations members, aimed at development of the Joint Declaration  through broad consensus with the support of the Committee members from both sides, and it was already certain: it will be realized effortlessly. The truly friendly atmosphere, clearly embedded in each moment of the meeting, made this epilogue fully natural.

This kind of atmosphere could not be affected by the specific backdrop of circumstances: exactly during the first day of the meeting, by coincidence, a draft European Parliament Resolution No. 2014/2970(RSP) was released in Strasbourg, and the voting as regards its adoption was scheduled for the following day – which was the second day of the Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting.  It was – at least – a very delicate issue, for Serbia. Members of the two delegations discussed this issue on many occasions during the first day of the meeting; there was more than clear amazement and concern of the delegation members of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia about the fact that the Resolution text was put on the EP agenda in consolidated version. On the other hand, understanding of the EP representatives was not lacking:  stronger than the positions taken at the very Committee meeting, the  understanding  was witnessed by the MEPs discussions in the plenary session that was held the following day, together with the official  media statements after the voting on the mentioned Resolution.

On the second working day me as a co-chairman of the EU – Serbia SAAP Committee, on behalf of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia chaired the meeting. In parallel to the continued debate on the topics reserved for the second day of the meeting: Protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms and Fight against corruption and organised crime and reform of the judiciary, which proved to be as highly inspiring for moderators – senior office holders in the parliaments of the two parties, as it was for many members of the joint parliamentary Committee, continuous consultations were held concerning the aligning the Declaration text. Once again the highly positive joint appraisal was voiced: regarding the outstanding results achieved in the field of further improvement of human rights and freedoms in Serbia, regarding new regulations in the field of media laws which received unanimous support of the EU colleagues, and regarding the   outstanding results in the sphere of anti-corruption and anti-criminal activities, together with the  high evaluation score for  the  reforms undertaken in Serbia and continuation of harmonization of the legal framework with the best modern societies standards. Immediately upon the closure of the debate on the items of the agenda, the work proceeded with the discussion of the amendments, voting and passing the Declaration. Incessant work on the preparation, participation of all members, common effort, strong wishes and exceptional energy invested in order to reach broad consensus and appreciate positions and perceptions of the participants, which was followed by voting on amendments – all this gives a special appeal to work in this Committee. Indisputable significance of the final text content quality and the work on its development “in real time” provides the MPs the reason for calling this Committee quite often “the most dynamic committee in the parliamentary practice”.

In such circumstances, it is quite clear, the assistance and experience Mr. Kukan offered to the chairmen on the second day of the meeting, was of enormous importance. The author of this text extends his deepest gratitude for this assistance and for the positions taken during the EP plenary meeting held on the same day and upon those which followed after the closure of the meeting, as well as for the overall attitude towards the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia delegation during the entire meeting.

The two chairmen jointly moved the Declaration text, which was followed by the open joint debate by the members of the two delegations on the proposed solutions and the text was then adopted with the enviable number of paragraphs:  individual conclusions on, actually, each of the topics that were discussed during the two-day meeting. Declaration text was adopted by the clear support of both delegations, and these facts testify on the level of the consensus achieved and mutual understanding. They represent undeniable proof that Serbia and the European Union speak the same language, and that they equally appreciate mutual expectations and individual responsibilities.

The text in English is available on the following web page: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/document/activities/cont/201411/20141127ATT94142/20141127ATT94142EN.pdf

The host of the joint lunch, by which the meeting was officially closed, was Ms Lunacek, EP Vice President. Jointly concluding that the previous day toast was fruitful –it resulted in a more successful second working day of the meeting – two delegations members in a cordial spirit called for a still more successful next meeting of the two parties. And it will follow this spring, in Belgrade.

It will be, undoubtedly, a great opportunity for a new gathering of good and sincere friends on the path of creation of a common future. It will be also held against a new stimulating backdrop: EP Resolution on Serbia’s progress in the EU integration process, which will be adopted immediately before the next meeting, and which both sides, unreservedly, are eagerly waiting for.

MP Vladimir Orlić, PhD, National Assembly of Republic of Serbia, Co-Chair of the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee    

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