BELGRADE – The European Commission has recently submitted the comments to the Working Group of the National Convention on the EU for the Chapter 23, coordinated by the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM), on the revised Action Plan for this Chapter. The interlocutors of EWB from YUCOM and Judicial Research Center (CEPRIS) emphasize that the remarks by the EU Commission to a great extent correspond to the recommendations which were earlier made by the civil society in Serbia. Almost half of these recommendations were rejected by the Ministry of Justice. YUCOM, also, publicly asks the Serbian authorities not to stop the implementation of the reforms during the revision of the Action Plan, as well as to organise further public debates as soon as possible, since the parliamentary election will take place either in March or in April 2020. The Ministry of Justice, after the initial consulting process with the judiciary institutions and civil society, submitted the latest version of the revised Action Plan to the EU Commission in June “for the evaluation and recommendations so that this document can be further developed”.
The sources from the EU have announced that in the late November “non-paper” on the state of play regarding Chapters 23 and 24 will be published.
Possible postponement due to the election
Jovana Spremo, Adviser on the EU integration processes at YUCOM and Coordinator of the Working Group of the National Convention on the EU for the Chapter 23, says that the EU Commission made numerous general comments, and the most important of them referred to the fact that “it is necessary to specify the indicators, to clarify the activities concerning the adoption of the new legal or strategic framework, so that the implementation can be evaluated, and the estimation of the effects of the strategic documents, particularly of the ones which have been expired, is required”.
“In addition, the explanation for the postponement of the amendment of the Constitution for the period after the parliamentary election takes place is required, as well as the further harmonisation of the activities envisioned by the Action Plan for the Chapter 23 and Action Plan for the Chapter 24, which are interconnected. The EU Commission has underlined that the budget evaluation is missing, and the fact that there are no comments on the deleted activities in the current Action Plan is not the confirmation that the activities were carried out efficiently”, our interlocutor explains.
Spremo points out that the EU Commission underlines that it is necessary to consult all the previous “peer reviews”, “particularly the ones in the domain of the war crimes and to evaluate the needs for the training in the judiciary, as well as to bear in mind all recommendations stated in the new Justice Functional Review”.
“Furthermore, the EU Commission asks the Ministry of Justice to clarify the principle of the functioning of the mechanism for the inclusion of the civil society, which has been described in the revised version of the Action Plan – in which way the new mechanism is related to the current official status of the National Convention on the European Union in the accession negotiations. In addition, the EU Commission makes the specific comments for each of the domains in this Chapter”, she emphasizes.
Speaking about the judiciary, Spremo points out that the EU Commission states that it is necessary to more closely connect the National Judicial Reform Strategy to the Action Plan for the Chapter 23, and the special emphasis is placed on the budget authority of the Judicial Councils, “which implies that the EU Commission insists on the return to the interim benchmarks, and asks the Ministry of Justice to clearly state whether the reforms will be directed towards achieving the complete budget independence of the Councils”.
“The domain of the fundamental rights, as the most comprehensive one, contains a number of concrete recommendations. The most striking ones refer to the activities regarding the need to employ the additional personnel in the independent bodies and to determine the budget which is necessary for the employment at full capacity. At the same time, the EU Commission requires the activities envisioned by the Action Plan for Chapter 23 to be harmonised with the final version of the Media Strategy”, the interlocutor of EWB explains.
Answering the question what are the segments in which the Ministry of Justice has not made enough effort in the context of the revision of the Action Plan for the Chapter 23, our interlocutor states that the Working Group of the National Convention for the Chapter 23, coordinated by YUCOM, submitted the coordinated response to the Ministry of Justice”. She specifies that, apart from the general comments which, mainly, referred to the quality of the documents “regarding the elaboration of the activities, the bodies in charge of the activities, adequacy of the indicators and greater transparency of the documents (analyses, studies), based on which the legal, strategic documents are made, the Working Group submitted almost 200 separate comments on the concrete activities”.
“Apart from the comments to which the Ministry answered only by giving some explanations, more than 50 percent of the comments were adopted and harmonised in the latest version of the Action Plan which has been sent to the EU Commission. The high percent of the comments which were not adopted are the similar to the above-mentioned comments made by EU Commission, such as insisting on the revival of the process of the amendment of the Constitution – as well as our previous remarks regarding the composition and responsibilities of the Judicial Councils, status of the Republic Public Prosecutor’s Office, the role of the Judicial Academy, comments regarding the complete budget independence of the Judicial Councils, coordination and responsibilities concerning the implementation of the Action Plan for the Chapter 23, and the relation to the strategic documents in the domain of the fight against corruption, but as well as the implementation of the recommendations regarding the improvement of the rules on the free access to the information of the public importance, transparency and responsibilities in the domain of the public enterprises, public-private partnerships and concessions, extension of the term “conflict of interest”, so as it can also refer to the employees in the public enterprises”, Spremo underlines.
Coordinator of the Working Group of the National Convention on the EU for the Chapter 23 announces that regarding the domain of the fundamental rights the Working Group will keep insisting on the “further normative activites concerning the Law on the Financial Support for the families with children, improving of the status of the independent institutions, on numerous recommendations on the improvement of the Media Strategy, as well as on the separate Action Plan for the minority rights”.
“Apart from insisting on the continuation of the consulting process, which was promised to us to be done in the late November, as well as all the recommendations which we have been made so far, it must be underlined that the implementation of the reforms, which was initiated either this or last year, should not be stopped, due to the revision of these activities”, the interlocutor of EWB thinks.
Spremo concludes that the Action Plan for the Chapter 23 is still valid, and “the lack of the reporting about the implementation and activities of the institutions responsible for the improvement of the situation is accompanied by the pause in the implementation of the necessary measures, as well as by the pause in the public debates on the important legal or strategic documents and/or the activities of the working groups”.
“The information that we get most frequently is that these activities will be continued after the parliamentary election takes place, which implies, under the most favourable scenario, the end of the second quarter of 2020”, she underlines.
Certainty about the Constitution
Vida Petrović Škero, former President of the Constitutional Court of Serbia and current President of the Judicial Research Center, considers that the Ministry of Justice will implement the recommendations made by the EU Commission “only partially”.
“In October 2019 the EU Commission submitted the comments on the latest version of the revised Action Plan for the Chapters 23 and 24. The Working Group of the National Convention received these comments and it can be noticed that they are very similar to the ones made by the civil society. Based on the experience gained by the approach taken by the Ministry of Justice after it had received the opinion by the Venice Commission on the Draft of the Amendments to the Constitution, I think that the Ministry will implement the recommendations by the EU Commission only partially, trying to implementing some less important recommendations, but not the ones which refer to the substantial activities – implementation of the important obligations not only in the domain of the normative actions, but the implementation which imply providing the conditions for the implementation of the laws, particularly of the budget ones, as well”, Petrović Škero states.
Our interlocutor underlines that the additional doubt is raised by the uncertainties about the timing of the adoption of the new Constitution, which depends on the timing of the parliamentary election, the problems regarding the implementation of the Law on the Planning System, and the fact that the Action Plan for the Chapter 23 was envisioned as the part of the National Judicial Reform Strategy”.
As the key remarks which have made by the EU Commission on the Action Plan for the Chapter 23, Petrović Škero underlines “exactly the ones to which the civil society pointed out – the necessity to specify the activities regarding the adoption of the legal or strategic framework, so that the effect of these activities can be evaluated; the necessity to specify the indicators; the answer to the question why the amendment of the Constitution is postponed for the period after the parliamentary election takes place; the harmonisation of the activities envisioned by the Action Plan for the Chapters 23 and 24 and the precise definition which bodies will implement them; budget evaluations; the comments on the deleted activities since the deletion of these activities is not the proof that they were carried out efficiently”.
President of CEPRIS expects that the consulting activities regarding the Action Plan will be continued soon, as well as “the continuation of the reforms which have been initiated, since the aim of these reforms is to meet the demands of the citizens of this country, which is particularly important having in mind the timing of the parliamentary election”.
This article has been published in the context of the project “Support for independent reporting on European integrations of Serbia with a special emphasis on Chapters 23 and 24”, which is being implemented in cooperation with EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy and with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. The views expressed in this article do not represent those of the EUROPEUM Institute or those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.