Panelists were Tanja Miščević, Head of the Negotiating Team for Accession of Serbia to the EU, Srdjan Majstorović, Deputy Director of European Integration Office, Dejan Anastasijević, Vreme weekly journalist, and Nebojša Lazarević, Director of the European Policy Centre and member of the Negotiating Team. The panel was moderated by Nikola S. Ristić, Executive Director of the Center for Contemporary Politics.
Speakers agreed that we can expect opening of the Chapter 5 – Public procurement, Chapter 25 – Science and research and Chapter 26 – Education and culture, by the end of the year. Also, Tanja Miščević pointed out that the opening of five chapters in a year is a very good result and that opening of all negotiating chapters is possible until the end of 2018. “Our plan is to be completely ready and undertake the membership obligations by 2018. That means all chapters need to be opened by then, with a significant number of them also closed”, said Miščević.
Moreover, Chief EU negotiator highlighted that the amending of Serbia’s constitution next year stands as a clear plan, but it does not refer to the reform of the electoral system. According to her, the topic of electoral system change is not a matter under the Chapter 23, and it is not a necessary part of the constitutional reform. However, it is a topic decision-makers are discussing and putting on the agenda. Miščević also said that the debate on change of the constitution began, but was interrupted due to the elections, and must be renewed.
Srdjan Majstorović also thinks that Serbia could firstly open Chapter 5, because of its connection to Chapter 23, which was already opened in July and deals judiciary and fundamental rights. Majstorović stressed that Serbia started with the harmonization of its legal system with the European law in time, and he is optimistic about the opening of next Chapters. Chapters 25 and 26, which are related to education and culture, are very specific because of the limited number of translations of the EU rules into the national legislation. “These chapters (25 and 26) will be opened the same day, hopefully by the end of the year, and also provisionally closed. And these will be the first chapters Serbia will temporarily close,” said Majstorovic. Speaking about the National Plan for the Adoption of the EU Acquis, Majstorovic highlighted that it places Serbia at a much higher starting point in relation to the countries of the region, when it comes to the level of harmonization of domestic legislation with the EU. Chapters which will require more time are, with the exception of 35, agriculture, environment, structural funds, as well as chapters 23 and 24, because, as he said, they include politically sensitive issues.
Bilateral relations between Serbia and Croatia could influence Serbia on its European path, stressed Dejan Anastasijević. Croatia blocked the opening of chapters 23 and 24 because of the Universal jurisdiction law, and we can expect more blockages to come, because of the border on the Danube, the issue of missing persons, war reparations, the position of the Croatian minority in Serbia, said Anastasijević. Among other countries in the neighborhood, Serbia could also have problems with Romania, on Vlach minority, and it is possible that Bulgaria will insist on Bulgarian minority rights in Serbia. Anastasijević concluded that in situation like this we need a rational and flexible diplomacy. He recalled that there is a principle within the EU that bilateral issues should not arise in the accession process, it exists as a principle, but it is not written anywhere.
Nebojša Lazarević highlighted that our goal should not be just to open the chapters, but to undertake essential reforms, in order to be able to fulfill all the obligations upon entering the EU. Serbia has, according to him, adopted a large number of regulations, but they are not being fully implemented. Furthermore, we will have even greater costs if we join the EU unprepared. “We should not be “playing” with the European integration process, it should be taken seriously. Our goal is to become a successful and credible member that can fully and easily meet all the obligations, and on the other side, use the benefits of the EU membership”, Lazarević stressed. In his opinion, it is also very important to improve public administration because it is directly connected to delivering of public policies and usage of European funds.
Center for Contemporary Politics and Konrad Adenauer Foundation will continue with the organization of conferences within the project Towards Europe, and a new discussion about the most important issues on Serbia’s European path can be expected already next month.