European Western Balkans

Renew Europe MEPs write to Várhelyi: “We believe that elections in Serbia will be far from democratic”

EP building in Brussels; Photo: European Parliament

BRUSSELS – Eleven Members of the European Parliament from the Renew Europe group sent a letter to the Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi, expressing deep concern over the state of democracy in Serbia and the conditions in which the upcoming elections are being held.

“We write to you concerning the serious backsliding concerning the commitment to basic European and democratic values ​​of the government and political leadership of Serbia. We are deeply worried over what seems to be an ever growing gap between the statements and commitments made by the Serbia’s political authorities and the reality as regards the fulfillment and respect of such commitments,” wrote MEPs from the third largest group in the European Parliament, which includes the party of the French President Emmanuel Macron.

The letter was signed, among others, by Nathalie Loiseau, former Minister for European Affairs in the French government, Klemen Grošelj, Renew Europe’s Shadow Rapporteur for Serbia and Ilhan Kyuchyuk, European Parliament Standing Rapporteur for North Macedonia. They also commented the decision to hold elections on 21 June.

“We regret the decision to hold parliamentary elections on 21 June, in the absence of an agreement on the date between the government and the opposition, which could have prevented a boycott of the elections by a part of the opposition. Such an agreement would also have raised the legitimacy of the elections. To make matters worse, in light of unbalanced media coverage, undue pressure on individuals and civil society critical of the current government, and according to the independent analyses of the state of democracy in the country, Serbia has recently been classified as a hybrid regime. We therefore believe that the elections in such an environment will be far from fair and democratic”, the letter reads.

According to this year’s Freedom House Nations in Transit report, Serbia is classified as a hybrid regime for the first time since 2003, previously being in the group of semi-consolidated democracies.

The MEPs also wrote that they are increasingly worried about the growing influence of Russia and China and the statements of the Serbian authorities about the European Union. These statements cast a shadow of doubt on the real commitment to the common European future of Serbia’s political leadership, the letter reads.

It is also stressed that the MEPs recognize that Serbia, despite its often tragic past, has made a substantial progress on the road to the EU, but that the statements of political leaders are even more disappointing given the EU’s support and the fact that the Union is Serbia’s largest trading partner.

According to MEPs, the EU needs to step up its efforts to bring Serbia into the group of countries with functioning democracies, to which end they propose not only monitoring the upcoming elections, but also analysing the impact of EU funding on the current state of democracy in Serbia.

According to the letter, the EU will have to demand the unequivocal commitment of the Serbia’s Government to the European perspective and respect for common rules, values and norms, even after the elections.

“Dear Commissioner, in the light of all the above and due to Europe’s strategic interest for the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans and Serbia in particular, we call on you to be extra vigilant when it comes to current developments in Serbia and to adequately reflect them in the upcoming Commission Annual Report on the country. Last but not least, we invite you to remind the authorities in Serbia to unconditionally fulfill their previously undertaken obligations before the inevitable parliamentary elections “, the MEPs conclude.

This is the second letter concerning Serbia that Members of the European Parliament send to Commissioner Várhelyi in less than two months. Previousl one, drafted by Attila Attila Ara-Kovács (S&D) and sent on April 16, addressed concerns about violations of human and constitutional rights during the state of emergency imposed by COVID-19.

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