Serbia has not implemented key rule of law reforms, civil society report shows

Serbian flag; Photo: Tanjug / Sava Radovanović

BELGRADE – Government of Serbia is still concerned with the formal rule of law criteria alone and is essentially only worried with the question whether the opposition will boycott the elections, as it would send a bad message to the world on the state of democracy in the country, prEUgovor Coalition reports.

The functioning of the institutions, the rule of law and the establishment of social consensus are not priorities that affect how the Government perceives European integration, shows the “PrEUgovor Alert on the progress of Serbia in the Chapters 23 and 24″ report.

As evidence of this, it is stated that the authorities are not trying to fulfill what they had promised, but are focused solely on formal obligations, provisional benchmarks, adoption and extension of the duration of certain strategies and action plans which are inadequate and insufficient.

The April-September report warns that the trend of abuse of public office and state institutions by the representatives of the executive during the election campaign, observed during parliamentary and local elections, continues.

During the presentation of the report, Sonja Stojanović Gajić, outgoing Director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, said that since April, when the main tone of the report was that Serbia was in a political crisis, certain changes have taken place.

„The first change is a mediated dialogue at the Faculty of Political Science organized by the Open Society Fund on election conditions and later under the auspices of former MEPs. The second is the continued revision of the Action Plans for Chapters 23 and 24. New version is to be sent back to Brussels and the legislation is to be harmonized by 2021,“ said Stojanović Gajić.

She noted that the European Union’s engagement in the areas of the rule of law and democracy should be more intensive, but also that the approach towards enlargement should be changed.

„Good practice applied in the case of Macedonia should be implemented in Serbia as well. There should be special Priebe reports, in which independent experts from the European Commission deal with the problems of democratic institutions. Our suggestion is that such reports should be made for all Western Balkan countries,“ she said.

The Alert Report indicated that independent institutions in charge of electoral conditions, the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (REM) and the Anti-Corruption Agency, are not performing their function.

„The fact is that the European Commission notes every year that Serbia failed to comply with OSCE/ODHR recommendations, even after the 2016 and 2017 elections,“ said Nemanja Nenadić, Program Director of the Transparency Serbia.

He emphasized that the dialogue on electoral conditions, and everything that followed, came too late.

At the same time, the work of the National Assembly reflects the general trend of the capture of state institutions by the ruling party.

Emergency legislation has been reduced, but the opposition is still marginalized and key positions in agencies and independent regulatory bodies remain unfilled.

„Changes in the National Assembly have taken place since the summer. Reports of the independent bodies and final budget proposals were put on the agenda. We cannot be satisfied with the effects of these changes. The quality of the reports of the independent government bodies is worse than five years ago,” Program Director Transparency Serbia said.

The report found developments in the security sector disturbing. The new laws reduce the degree of transparency in the governance of the sector, while the discretionary powers of politicians with regard to public procurement and employment increase.

“There are bad trends that go several years back”, said Saša Đorđevic from the Center for Security Policy.

He emphasized that the new provisions of the Law on Institutions of the Security Sector create potential corruption.

“Under the pretext of national security, no institutions need to apply public procurement procedures. In practice, this means that they do not have to seek different bids and watch out for potential conflicts of interest”, said Đorđević, adding that the new provisions do not oblige these institutions to report to the executive and the assembly, which creates a risk of corruption.

The prEUgovor Coalition brings together seven civil society organizations and was established to monitor the implementation of policies related to Serbia’s EU accession negotiations, with particular emphasis on Chapters 23 and 24.

The Coalition’s goal is to help use the EU accession process to make significant progress in further democratization of the Serbian society.