European Western Balkans
Image default

[EWB Interview] Nemec: Proper functioning of democratic institutions a central pillar of Serbia’s EU accession process

Members of the European Parliament, Vladimir Bilčik and Matjaž Nemec, visited Belgrade last week. This visit marked the beginning of a new and different phase of negotiations between the government and the opposition in Serbia. This time about improving dialogue in the Serbian National Assembly (Narodna skupština).

For the first time, the European Parlament offered assistance and mediation in the dialogue between the government and the opposition in August 2019 regarding electoral conditions. EP Delegation became involved in the dialogue in October 2019. After three meetings with MEPs, most opposition parties decided to boycott the parliamentary elections in 2020.

In November 2020, European Parliament again offered mediation to the former President of the National Assembly, Ivica Dačić. The second phase of Inter-Party Dialogue as preparation for new elections in Serbia began in March 2021. Technically, it was completed before the elections in April 2022. The short time frame to assess the actual effects of the IPD did not prevent the emergence of a myth that threatens to become truth – that this process significantly improved electoral conditions in Serbia.

About the results of the Inter-Party Dialogue with the mediation of the EP, the new negotiations in Narodna skupština, and Serbia’s path to the EU, we talked with Matjaž Nemec, a Slovenian Member of the European Parliament from the Social and Democrats parliamentary group.

European Western Balkans: How do you evaluate the results of the dialogue between the government and the opposition in Serbia with the mediation of the European Parliament (IPD)? 

Matjaž Nemec: We are returning back to Brussels optimistic, feeling that both the leadership of Serbia and the elected representatives in Skupština still believe that Serbia’s future is within the European Union. We have a lot of work ahead of us, how to define the process itself, establish a timeline and work format, and present the Serbian Parliament with good alternatives to restore its credibility.

EWB: How does the new dialogue phase in the National Assembly differ from the discussions in the previous three years? 

MN: The process is going to be reformed from inter-party dialogue to a Parliamentary Dialogue process. The latest discussions have evolved around the willingness to continue cooperation in the areas of supporting parliamentary dialogue and strengthening Parliament’s capacity and role in the European Integration process.

EWB: There is a lot of ambiguity among the Serbian public these days as to „why MEPs are coming to Serbia“. What are the priorities of your visit and discussion in the National Assembly?

MN: We came to Belgrade with an objective to discuss with the Parliament’s leadership and representatives of parliamentary groups the need of dialogue support inside the National Assembly and how the European Parliament’s engagement could contribute to the strengthening the role of the Parliament and promote the European culture of dialogue and consensus building. Participation of the parliamentary groups in that regard is welcomed. Citizens’ trust in parliament is crucial for tackling the challenges of every democratic society. This is important not least for the sake of Serbian Skupština’s credibility to conduct its parliamentary affairs effectively, democratically and fully accountable to the Serbian people.

EWB: What do you think of the new convocation of the National Assembly of Serbia? What are the key problems you see in the functioning of the Serbian parliament?

MN: It is not for us to judge the composition of the National Assembly, but to support Serbia and Skupština in its path towards the EU and fulfilling fully their potential. The seat distribution resulted from the elections, where the EU did not shy away from pointing out that there has been a number of “shortcomings which resulted in an uneven playing field, favouring the incumbents,” whereas in comparison to the prior election – also thanks to the IPD process lead by the European Parliament – most political parties participated in the elections which in itself was a positive thing.

Our job therefore is to to help make sure the proper functioning of Serbia’s democratic institutions which is a central pillar of Serbia’s EU accession process.

National Assembly and European Parliament will therefore work together to significantly strengthen parliamentary dialogue and consensus building capabilities, which will strengthen the work of the Parliament and give it necessary democratic credibility.

EWB:  How does the European Parliament view the state of democracy in Serbia? Almost every resolution maps many problems in this area…

MN: A vibrant and functioning democratic system is part of core European identity and values, however, in recent years we have seen democratic backsliding not only in the Western Balkan countries, but also in the EU member states including Hungary, Poland and under Janša’s government my own country Slovenia.

It is necessary to establish a robust mechanisms for monitoring democracies and rule of law situations both in the EU and outside of its borders and to act on their threats. This is where our role comes in as well. An open conversation regarding Serbia’s challenges on the way to the EU is an important step to establish the necessary trust between the EU and the political parties of the Assembly and between them, despite their differences. And we shall do our best to help facilitate that process along the way.

EWB: The reactions of the Serbian authorities are very harsh to the criticism from the EP. They usually say that the evaluations of the European Parliament are political. Are the criticisms from the EP political, or are they based on the reality of political life in the country?

MN: Parliaments are political bodies consisting of elected politicians and are by their nature political. However, political does not mean “bias” or not constructive. The term “political” is usually used in a negative context by those who refuse to accept constructive criticism. But at the end of the day the European union is a political union, where politics is conducted. That is not a bad thing if each system independently can function without undue process and interference or pressures. Parliaments legislate, governments govern, the courts judge, the media supervises.

Our purpose is to discuss the need for dialogue support inside the National Assembly with the leadership of the Parliament and representatives of parliamentary groups and how the engagement of the European Parliament could contribute to strengthening the Parliament’s role and promoting a culture of dialogue and consensus within Skupština. And the trust of citizens in parliament is crucial to confronting the challenges of every democratic society.

EWB: Do you believe that Serbia could make any progress in the EU accession process without imposing sanctions against Russia and implementing necessary rule of law reforms?

MN: The issue of sanctions is on one hand a question of European democracy, defending freedoms and solidarity and the dissolution of the world order on the other. The European Union is about sharing common goals, ideas but also its about aligning their rules and regulations as without it we are just a group of individual states with each of our own. Serbia’s alignment to EU sanctions would significantly help Serbia’s accession process, especially if its leadership is serious and sincere about Serbia’s future.

Related posts

From Budapest to the Balkans, via Brussels

Ivana Jordanovska

Protests in Serbia, Albania and Montenegro continue, demonstrators take more radical steps

Aleksandar Ivković

Vračić: BiH politicians grounded their entire political narrative in the past