S&D, Renew and Greens MEPs support the request of Serbian opposition for EU expert reports on rule of law and media

European Parliament; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – In a joint statement seen by European Western Balkans, representatives of three groups in the European Parliament, which together have 311 MEPs, supported a request of the Serbian opposition to European institutions to set up an EU expert group which would produce a report on the state and media capture in Serbia, as the first step in resolving the political crisis under the auspices of the EU.

As the media reported yesterday, representatives of the opposition in Serbia who boycotted the elections on 21 June, sent a letter to the European Commission calling on the EU to form expert groups that would, following the example of resolving the political crisis in North Macedonia several years ago, prepare a report on the situation regarding the rule of law and democracy in the country. This report would be the starting point for the EU’s engagement in resolving the political crisis in Serbia, opposition wrote. The novelty in the case of Serbia is that the opposition is also demanding an expert group on the state of media freedom.

Not long after the letter was sent, Members of the European Parliament decided to support this initiative and called on the European Commission to establish these groups and prepare the reports.

The statement was signed by Tanja Fajon (S&D), Klemen Grošelj (Renew Europe) and Viola von Cramon Taubadel (Greens/EFA). Grošelj and von Cramon are the Shadow Rapporteurs for Serbia on behalf of their groups, while Fajon is the Chair of the European Parliament Delegation for Serbia.

These three groups have 311 MEPs in total, which is significantly more than the European People’s Party (EPP), the only group that still clearly supports the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. The EPP, of which the SNS is an associate member, has 178 members in the European Parliament, which has a total of 705 members.

Our portal recently analysed which groups in the European Parliament are critical of the ruling party in Serbia, which support it, and which have not been significantly engaged in the situation in Serbia so far. The latter group has slightly more than 200 MEPs, of which GUE-NGL is certainly not close to the ruling party of Serbia, while ID and especially ECR are not likely to support this initiative, which nevertheless means that groups critical of the situation in Serbia currently have a clear majority.

In their statement, Fajon, Grošelj and von Cramon pointed out that the joint efforts of the European Parliament and the European Commission in the past have proved effective in resolving political crises in other countries in the region, clearly referring to North Macedonia, adding that they could yield results in Serbia as well.

They added that the European Parliament should support the strengthening of the democratic pillar of the new enlargement methodology and ensure the participation of all major political parties in Serbia in the continuation of the dialogue mediated by the European Parliament. In the first phase, the dialogue was mediated by Tanja Fajon and the EP Rapporteur for Serbia, Vladimir Bilčik (EPP), and it was announced that it would continue after the elections.

Fajon, Grošelj and von Cramon pointed out in the statement that democracy in Serbia is currently endangered by authoritarian tendencies of the government, unfair electoral conditions and lack of basic media freedom and rule of law. Despite the recent general elections, the on-going demonstrations in the streets and their violent suppression are clear signs Serbia is facing grave challenges to its future, MEPs wrote.

“Without the solid response and solution to listed problems, Serbia has no stable future and unfortunately no real EU membership perspective,” they wrote.

How the Parliament and the Commission resolved the political crisis in North Macedonia?

The opposition in Macedonia at the time accused the regime of Nikola Gruevski, who was in power from 2006 to 2017, of authoritarianism and state capture, which made it impossible to hold free and fair elections. The political crisis in the country erupted with the “wiretapping” affair, when the opposition led by Zoran Zaev discovered that the government was secretly and illegally recording the conversations of a large number of citizens.

At the time of the political crisis in Macedonia, the European Commission, in addition to its mediation efforts between political actors, gathered a group of independent experts, led by Reinhard Priebe, a retired Director of the European Commission, with the task of investigating the systemic problems of the rule of law in this country. The outcome of this endeavor was the so-called Priebe Report, drafted after multiple expert visits to Macedonia, meetings with governmental and non-governmental actors, and access to relevant documentation provided by the EC.

Independent experts, whose involvement is now requested by the Serbian opposition as well, have been more direct in diagnosing problems than the European Commission’s regular reports, which are often written in a too technical a language, analysts pointed out for EWB on several occasions. Priebe and his associates could get out of the formalized mold of EU reporting, even though the report still carried the authority of the European Commission, which commissioned and published it.

Shortly after the publication of the Priebe Report, the Pržino Agreement was concluded in 2015 between the leaders of the four largest parties in Macedonia, under the mediation of the representatives of the three largest groups in the European Parliament Eduard Kukan (EPP), Richard Howitt (S&D) and Ivo Vajgl (ALDE). The agreement paved the way towards the transitional government and elections accepted by all political actors.