David McAllister, European Parliament standing rapporteur on Serbia, presented the draft report on Serbia to the members of the Committee for Foreign Policy of the European Parliament (AFET) on 9 January. The draft report consists of 24 paragraphs and welcomes that out of a total of 35 negotiation chapters, six chapters have now been opened for negotiations, of which one chapter has already been provisionally closed.
David McAllister declared that the Serbian government is tackling the challenges of creating jobs, enhancing competitiveness and boosting growth and that important economic reforms have been adopted to strengthen the business environment in the country.
However, McAllister pointed that in 2017 Serbia should continue to put special emphasis on strengthening the rule of law, as corruption and organised crime still represent an obstacle to the country’s democratic, social and economic development. In the draft text of resolution is stated that judicial independence is not assured in practice, that the quality and efficiency of the judiciary and access to justice remain undermined by an uneven distribution of the workload, a burdensome case backlog and the lack of a free legal aid system.
Unlike the European Commission, the European Parliament rapporteur has taken note of the controversial events in Belgrade’s Savamala district and calls for their swift resolution. The rapporteur is also concerned by the lack of progress in the fight against corruption and urges Serbia to show clear commitment in tackling this issue. The Serbian authorities are called to step up the implementation of the national anti-corruption strategy and action plan.
As many times before, the European Parliament rapporteur is concerned that no progress has been made to improve the situation regarding freedom of expression and freedom of media. Noting that threats, violence and intimidation against journalists remain an issue of concern, the draft report calls on the authorities to investigate any cases of attacks against journalists and media outlets. “Moreover, shortcomings in the exercise of the freedom of expression and media should be addressed as a matter of priority”, McAllister declared in Brussels. The Serbian authorities are called for the full implementation of media laws and for complete transparency in media ownership and funding of media.
In the draft text of resolution, Serbia’s positive approach on dealing with the migration crisis and its role in promoting regional cooperation and reconciliation in the Western Balkans is most welcomed. It is important, as being said, that Serbia adopt and implement the new asylum law.
The draft report calls on Serbia to align its foreign and security policy with that of the EU, including its policy on Russia.
Serbia’s continued engagement in the normalisation process with Kosovo and its commitment to the implementation of the agreements reached in the EU-facilitated dialogue is also welcomed. The Serbian authorities are called to move forward with the full implementation of all the agreements already reached and to determinedly continue the normalisation process with Kosovo.
“Serbia is on its path towards the European Union. The overall pace of the negotiations will mainly depend on progress under the rule of law chapters 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) and in the process of normalisation of relations with Kosovo under chapter 35”, concluded David McAllister.
The office of the European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia earlier said that it is expected that the AFET will adopt the document by the end of February. Final adoption of the Resolution on Serbia is expected at the plenary session of the European Parliament, which will be held from 13th to 16th March in Strasbourg.