EC non-paper on Serbia: Pressures on media and judiciary still very much present

European Commission; Photo: European Union

BELGRADE – An informal document of the European Commission on the situation in Chapters 23 and 24 in negotiations with Serbia, the so-called “non-paper”, has been published on the website of the Serbian Ministry of European Integration. It represents a six-month report that informs the EU Member States on the situation in areas of key importance for the European integration process.

The report found that there were serious delays in a number of reforms concerning the rule of law, as well as coordination of anti-corruption policies. Threats, intimidation and violence against journalists, as well as political and economic influence on the media, are particularly emphasised. Chapter 24 noted positive steps in border control and migration and in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.

Chapters 23: Justice and Fundamental Rights and 24: Justice, Freedom, and Security are paramount to progress on the European integration path because they can slow this process if reforms in these areas are delayed. The European Commission therefore closely monitors the progress of the candidate countries and produces regular informal reports for Serbia and Montenegro. This year, Serbia has opened only two new negotiation chapters,  which has not happened since 2015, when the first two were opened in December.

In the non-paper, the EC points out that, with regard to freedom of expression and the media, cases of threats, intimidation, and violence against journalists remain a serious cause for concern, especially at the local level. In addition, the report adds, concerns continue to cause political and economic influence on the media.

The process of constitutional reform to strengthen the independence and accountability of the judiciary is currently stalled, the report estimates. The European Commission (EC) stresses the importance of continuing this process “as soon as possible, in a transparent and inclusive manner, with the preparation of the necessary accompanying laws (“package of judiciary laws”).

Although Serbia has, by adopting a Chapter 23 Action Plan, committed itself to amend its Constitution in line with European standards on the independence and accountability of the judiciary, and to complete this process by the end of 2017, the process of constitutional reform has remained in its first phase. In addition, Serbia must accelerate reforms in the areas of independence and accountability of the judiciary, freedom of expression, prevention of corruption and the fight against organized crime, the EC estimates.

“Government officials, sometimes at the highest level, continue to comment publicly on ongoing investigations and trials, as well as individual judges and prosecutors. Tabloid campaigns target members of the judiciary known for critical views on judicial reform”, the report said.

In the fight against corruption, Serbia is seriously late in ensuring effective coordination of its anti-corruption policies, the report estimates.

“In particular, the roles of the cabinet of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Justice, the Anti-Corruption Agency and the Anti-Corruption Council should be better defined and clear timelines should be established”, the document highlights, adding that the public awareness and engagement campaigns are still not enforced.

Part of the Chapter 24 report states that there are positive steps in border management and migration, including the implementation of European standard-compliant asylum procedures, the fight against cyber crime, trafficking in human beings, and money laundering.

“All of the above should result in better performance in the fight against organized crime, a more proactive approach to financial investigations and the seizure of illegally acquired funds,” the Commission estimated.