European Western Balkans

Key findings of the 2015 report on Serbia

The report on Serbia is part of the 2015 enlargement package adopted today by the European Commission. Major steps were taken in the accession negotiations with Serbia. The analytical examination of the acquis (screening), was completed in March 2015. Discussions on the screening reports on the negotiating chapters are well advanced in the Council. Serbia completed comprehensive action plans required for the opening of rule of law chapters 23 and 24 and has reached key agreements with Kosovo as part of the normalisation process, dealt with under chapter 35.

The Commission concluded that Serbia continued to make progress as regards the political and economic criteria. Looking ahead, Serbia needs to consolidate and further sustain its economic and structural reforms agenda, including on public administration reform and economic governance. It also needs to enhance credibility and predictability of the rule of law sector, including the full exercise of freedom of expression.Given its geographical location at EU external borders, Serbia faces an unprecedented influx of migrant and refugee flows. The country made a substantial effort to ensure that they receive shelter and humanitarian supplies with EU and international support.It is crucial for Serbia to improve its asylum system and further enhance its accommodation capacity. Serbia is also expected to continue its commitment to regional cooperation through the Western Balkan Six format and the Berlin process and the connectivity agenda. It is also expected to remain committed to the normalisation of relations with Kosovo through continuous implementation in good faith of all agreements reached in the dialogue.

Political criteria

The Serbian government remained actively committed to its strategic goal of EU accession. Inclusiveness of stakeholders in the accession negotiations improved. Steps taken to increase co-operation with independent institutions, including the Ombudsman, need to be further strengthened. Urgent procedures, including on drafted legislation linked to the EU accession process, should be curtailed to ensure greater debate. Some progress was made towards eradicating political influence in public administration, which need to translate into practice. Rule of law reforms have started to be implemented. Evaluation rules for prosecutors and judges are now in place but there is still room for political influence over judicial appointments and the Serbian judiciary still faces major obstacles hampering its independence, efficiency and accountability. The legal framework to fight corruption and organised crime was upgraded, in particular to protect whistle-blowers. However, prevalent corruption and an inadequate institutional set-up continue to be detrimental to the business sector. Serbia should address the excessive recourse to the offence of abuse of position and develop solid track records. Serbia is moderately advanced as regards respect of fundamental rights. A pride parade was again peacefully held in Belgrade, but systematic efforts are needed to improve, promote and protect the rights of the most vulnerable and discriminated persons, including Roma and LGBTI persons. More needs to be done to ensure conditions for the full exercise of freedom of expression and transparency of ownership and funding in the media sector.

Economic criteria

Serbia is moderately prepared in developing a functioning market economy. Serbia’s economy is recovering from a recession. Good progress has been made to address some of the policy weaknesses. Thanks to significant consolidation measures and better tax collection, the budget deficit has fallen sharply. Inflation remains very low. Unemployment, though very high, has fallen below 20%. Progress has been made with restructuring of publicly owned companies and main utilities, which should be completed. State presence in the economy has remained significant. The private sector is underdeveloped and hampered by weaknesses in the rule of law and difficult access to finance.

Serbia is moderately prepared in terms of capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. The education system has remained inefficient, physical infrastructure underdeveloped and the informal sector and state aid have remained substantial. Serbia needs to improve the quality of the education system and gear it towards labour market needs, stimulate private investments and speed up the implementation of public infrastructure projects. It needs to provide a transparent framework of state support to the private sector, including a fair system of para-fiscal charges.

EU Legislation

Overall, Serbia is progressing with implementing its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).Serbia should discontinue the safeguard measures on EU imports of milk, cheese, butter and pork as they are unjustified. Intensive legislative activities took place to align the Serbian legal framework with the acquis. Serbia became the 33rd member of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. It set up a National Investment Committee, bringing together national authorities, donors and international financial institutions (IFIs) to coordinate Serbian investment policy in key sectors of the single project pipeline (energy, transport, environment and business-related infrastructure), which sets an example in the region. A sustained effort is however still needed to maintain the pace of reforms. Adequate financial and human resources and sound strategic frameworks are crucial in this respect. This applies in particular to key areas of the acquis such as state aid control, asylum procedure and energy. Serbia’s alignment with EU declarations and Council decisions in the area of foreign and security policy still needs to be improved so that Serbia fulfils the requirement under the negotiating framework to progressively align its policies and decisions with the ones adopted by the European Union and its Member States in the period up to accession.

Key Dates

1999: The EU proposes the new Stabilisation and Association Process for five countries of Southeast Europe

June 2000: The European Council states that all the Stabilisation and Association countries are potential candidates for EU membership

June 2003: Thessaloniki Summit: EU perspective for the Western Balkans is confirmed

April 2008: Signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between Serbia and the EU

December 2009: Visa-free travel to Schengen area for citizens of Serbia; Serbia presents its application for membership of the EU

February 2010: The Interim Agreement on Trade and Trade-related issues (part of the SAA) enters into force

October 2011: The European Commission issues its Opinion on Serbia’s application for EU membership

March 2012: Serbia obtains the status of candidate country

April 2013: The European Commission recommends the opening of accession negotiations with Serbia

June 2013: The European Council decides to open accession negotiations with Serbia

September 2013: The SAA enters into force; the analytical examination of the acquis (“screening”) starts.

December 2013: The Council adopts the negotiating framework.

21 January 2014: First inter-governmental conference on accession negotiations with Serbia.

March 2015: completion on schedule of the analytical examination of the acquis (“screening”)

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