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More than just opening chapters 23 and 24 – the importance of individual freedom and security

Author: Prof. dr Tanja Miščević, Head of the Negotiating Team for the Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union

In July, when chapters 23 and 24 were opened during the Intergovernmental conference, a discussion evolved about what that means for the state, the accession negotiations and the process of the European integration of Serbia. What the specific measures, outlined in the two action plans for the chapters, will bring us, especially in areas that are of particular interest to citizens: justice, the fight against corruption and organised crime, drugs and terrorism?

Briefly – chapters 23 and 24 relate to a large number of topics that are very important to the realisation and protection of human rights, but also for the security of each individual. Human rights are not just a list of rights (defined by the Serbian constitution and laws), but the insurance of the enjoyment of these rights through the reform of the judiciary, public administration and police. Measures that envisage these reforms are found in the Action plans for these two chapters, and they can be seen on the websites of ministries of justice and internal affairs. I will underline the measures that I sincerely believe signify a big step forward, whose realisation would mean a lot to each individual, but for which a lack of their implementation would represent a problem in the negotiation process.

In the area of judiciary, reforms mean the achievement of independence, impartiality and accountability, as well as expertise and efficiency. The Action Plan for Chapter 23 envisages that by the end of 2017 Serbia must amend its constitution in order to ensure the independence and accountability of the judiciary. Strengthening the accountability of judges and public prosecutors will be achieved through the implementation of the provisions on the conflict of interest, verification of property maps and the monitoring of compliance with the code of ethics, one of the measures for achieving these activities is the adoption of amendments to the Law on the Anti-Corruption Agency during 2016. Expertise/efficiency is achieved through the implementation of the program for solving old cases, including the introduction of methods for alternative dispute resolution, as well as the development of an e-justice system (by the end of 2017), improving the uniformity of judicial practice and supervision over the implementation of the new Criminal Procedure Code.

The fight against corruption involves, apart from the implementation of existing measures, the strengthening of political and institutional ownership and to determine the point of primary responsibility for the implementation of the Strategy for the Fight against Corruption. In order to better prevent corruption, measures are foreseen that clearly define the responsibilities of the Anti-Corruption Agency and ensure that it has adequate capacity, through the adoption of a new Law on the Agency. The new law must ensure the implementation of regulations on the control of the funding of political subjects and the financing of election campaigns (therefore envisages the amendments to the Law on Financing of Political Parties during the 2016). We are preparing measures for the de-politicisation of the public administration, strengthening its transparency and integrity, which include strengthening internal control and audit abilities.

Special attention was paid to the implementation and assessment of the impact of measures for the fight against corruption in particularly sensitive areas such as health care, taxation, education, police, customs and local governments, which requires the amendment of the laws on chambers of health care workers, the police and supplementing the legal framework in the field of customs (until the first half of 2017).

For the purpose of ensuring implementation and achieving concrete results in the fight against corruption, we are already working on amending the Law on the Organization and Jurisdiction of State Bodies in the Fight against Organised Crime and Corruption as well as establishing the competence of special investigative teams to increase efficiency in the prosecution of crimes. For the sake of conducting effective investigations into allegations of corruption in privatisation cases and to ensure full transparency and accountability, we are establishing a special department in the High Court in charge of these issues, as well as equivalent departments within police and public prosecution. Amendments to the Law on the confiscation of assets derived from criminal acts, foreseen for this year, will ultimately regulate the legal and institutional framework that allows effective temporary and permanent confiscation and management of assets that are derived from criminal offenses.

The Action Plan for Chapter 24 plans to strengthen the capacity of the police, the Office of the Prosecutor for Organised Crime and the Administration for Prevention of Money Laundering in order to fight organised crime, including economic and financial crime. Our colleagues are working on the first version of the national threat assessment of violent and organised crime and are preparing the establishment of a centralised system of information on crime and a platform for communication between the police authorities.

This year, we anticipate the adoption of a new Strategy for the Prevention and Fight against Trafficking, as well as a Strategy for the Prevention and Fight against Terrorism. With that in mind, as an important part of insuring citizen’s security, we have to align with European methods of defining and designating critical infrastructure, as well as assessing whether there is a need to enhance their protection. We need to further harmonise with EU standards in the field of acquisition and possession of firearms and to strengthen our witness protection system. We pointed out to the importance of implementing the Plan for the Fight against Violence and Disorderly Conduct at Sports Events, as well as cooperation in securing football matches and the exchange of information concerning motor vehicle thefts.

The implementation of the Strategy for the Prevention of Drug Abuse for the period 2014-2021 is crucial for cooperation in the field of fighting against drugs and the focal point with the European neighbourhood is the recently formed National Centre for Monitoring, which is in charge of regularly updating lists of drugs in accordance with international and European developments. Measures will be taken to improve the operational performance of the police and the judiciary in the fight against smuggling and drug use. We also have to develop measures in order to facilitate secure storage and effective destruction of seized drugs and their precursors.

And finally, how do we know that the measures are implemented? Not by the number of adopted laws and new institutions, but rather by their work and the results they produce – here we come to the magical method of measuring our success, which is called track record, which implies concrete results that can be proved. Isn’t it strange that we do not have an equivalent term in the Serbian language… Well, it is not, because it is only now that we have to learn how to prove that the adopted laws are actually enforced. And that is the real essence of the opening chapters of the rule of law.

This article has been originally published in NIN magazine and has been republished with permission.

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