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Coalition prEUgovor: The state of emergency has exposed the passivity of key institutions

National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia; Photo: Wikimedia Commons

BELGRADE – The state of emergency has exposed the passivity of key institutions such as the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court, but also the non-functioning of verification and balance mechanisms against the domination of the executive, it was said at the online presentation of the findings of coalition prEUgovor from Alarm Report on Progress of Serbia in Chapters 23 and 24.

The Coalition prEUgovor noted that negative tendencies in most areas continue in the period from October 2019 to April 2020 and that the COVID-19 virus pandemic worsened in the last two months, especially after the state of emergency was declared on 15 March.

The report pays special attention to how the state of emergency, which President Vučić defined as “war against the invisible enemy”, affected democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights and freedom, and the guarantee of security and justice in Serbia.

The state of emergency has exposed the absence of reforms in Chapters 23 and 24 and the non-functioning of institutions, which has affected the abolition of the division of power.

According to Alarm Report, it was disputable that the state of emergency was declared outside the National Assembly, without an appropriate explanation of why it could not meet.

Jelena Pejić Nikić, a researcher at the Belgrade Center for Security Policy and editor of the Alarm Report, pointed out that during the proclamation of the state of emergency, a very high level of passivity and lack of interest of the highest institutions such as the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court was shown.

“The President of the Parliament did not even try to get the Assembly to meet, and even when it did, it confirmed and praised all the decisions of the Government during the state of emergency, it did not decide individually on each measure, although for some it is very questionable whether they are in accordance with the Constitution. The Constitutional Court spoke only at the end of May, and on that occasion, it confirmed that all measures of the government were in accordance with the Constitution”, said Jelena Pejić Nikić.

She mentioned that the report noted this time, as well as the last time, a number of affairs like Krušik instead of positive results. According to her, the Krušik affair is a textbook example of a captured state, which was later completely forgotten.

Due to the declaration of a state of emergency, preparations for the elections were suspended, but the official campaign of the ruling party continued, the Alarm Report stated.

The ruling party’s official campaign lasted beyond the official announcement and postponement of parliamentary, provincial and local elections, and it already showed that the systemic shortcomings of the rules on electoral conditions have not been resolved by recent legislative changes.

The rules of public procurement and transparency of public authorities have been neglected, media freedoms have been significantly restricted, and restrictive measures have been adopted, whose constitutionality is questionable, the report states.

The program director of Transparency Serbia, Nemanja Nenadić, mentioned that the result of the negotiations on election conditions, which was helped by Brussels and the EU, did not result in solving the biggest problems of the election process, as is the case with the functionary campaign.

“As a result of all that, we got changes to the law that cannot realistically improve the situation in the areas of elections in any important way,” said Nenadić.

He pointed out that the recommendation to seek the opinion of ODIHR before the law enters into force was not fulfilled, from the legal side, because in this case ODIHR will give its opinion on what the election laws are after the elections, instead of receiving such an answer earlier.

“When we asked for the reforms to be more complete, the answer was that the regulations cannot be changed in an election year. Then we get a situation where the most important law is changed in the election year – the Law on the Election of Deputies, which reduced the threshold from five to three per cent, increased representation of women… It all shows us that it was possible, that there was will to change all regulations that were important for the election process,” Nenadić said.

According to the report, even political commitment to European integration has been under attack since the beginning of the pandemic crisis, as seen in statements by top officials criticizing the alleged lack of European solidarity, while praising and asking for help from “brotherly” China.

“The government is not committed to European integration – we still do not have the head of the negotiating team, we do not have a decision on accepting the new methodology. The new methodology points out that greater emphasis will be placed on a declarative commitment to European integration, and officials in Serbia behaved the opposite at the beginning of the pandemic,” Jelena Pejić Nikić concluded.

The mission of the prEUgovor is to oversee the implementation of policies in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights (Chapter 23) and justice, freedom and security (Chapter 24) and propose measures to improve the reforms, using the process of EU integration to achieve substantial progress in the further democratization of Serbia.

Members of the prEUgovor are: ASTRA – Anti-trafficking Action, Autonomus Women’s Center (AWC), Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP), Center for Applied European Studies (CAES), Center for Investigative Reporting in Serbia (CIRS), Group 484 and Transparency Serbia (TS).

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