Picula: Government behavior in Serbia deviates from democratic standards

Tonino Picula; Photo: European Parliament

BELGRADE – Authorities in Serbia have been deviating from democratic standards for a long time, to make it even more rigid since the outbreak of the pandemic, warned European Parliament rapporteur for the Western Balkans, Tonino Picula, Nova.rs portal reported.

“President Vučić decided to introduce a state of emergency in Serbia without a time limit, which drastically limited not only the movement of citizens but also reduced some fundamental rights, such as the right to freedom of expression or the right to a fair trial,” Picula said.

He stressed that in such crisis situations, the moves of the authorities should be comprehensive, but also appropriate to the weight of the circumstances.

Asked about comment on the fact that the President of Serbia thanked China, the United Arab Emirates and Norway for delivering the equipment, while he rarely mention the EU, Picula said that it is how the President of Serbia “plays on the emotions of the people”.

“When we mention China, Russia or Hungary, President Vučić likes to maintain a sense of intimacy with the presidents of those countries. It plays on the emotions of people who find it difficult to understand that democracy is an optimal but also demanding process,” Picula said, adding that a large number of citizens in Serbia live in relative poverty, burdened with a fresh and strong authoritarian heritage, and therefore find simplified and autocratic solutions attractive.

He recalled that the EU provided Serbia with direct assistance to combat COVID-19 in the amount of 15 million euros, as well as an additional 94 million euros from IPA funds that have not been spent, which can be used to prevent the spread and consequences of the disease, and added that the third tranche of an additional 57.6 million euros could be made available from IPA funds.

Picula noted that the President of Serbia is constantly trying to maintain the impression of a successful balancing act between Brussels, Moscow and Beijing, although Serbia accepted, at the beginning of the EU membership talks, that it would have to fully harmonize its foreign policy with the common foreign and security policy of the EU over time.

“This process is regularly monitored through progress reports. If the distancing continues, I can hardly imagine the successful conclusion of the membership negotiations or the completion of the ratification procedures in the parliaments of all EU Member States,” Picula said.

He stressed that the new European Parliament report on Serbia is expected in autumn and that as a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs he hopes that it will reflect the real situation and serve to correct everything that needs to be changed.

Tonino Picula is one of the signatories of the letter sent by MEPs to EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, warning of an “extremely disturbing” situation with respect for constitutional and human rights in Serbia.

MEPs have asked the EU Enlargement Commissioner to make a clear statement on the “extremely serious” domestic developments and the statements against the EU, as well as what Brussels can specifically do to deal with the “extreme” measures of the Government of Serbia.

The MEPs are also urging Várhelyi to recommend political steps that the European Commission could make with regard to the EU membership prospects of Serbia in case its government refuses to revoke its repressive policies and to fully honour common European values.

A response to a letter will be submitted before the end of May, European Commission stated.