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AFET discusses Serbian elections, investigation of irregularities and implementation of ODIHR recommendations in focus

EP building in Brussels; Photo: European Parliament

BRUSSELS – Members of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) discussed Serbian elections in today’s session with the representatives of the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS), who both said that Serbian authorities had expressed readiness to address OSCE/ODIHR recommendations once the final report was published. Many MEPs reiterated calls for an investigation of irregularities.

European Parliament previously discussed Serbian elections held in December during its last week’s plenary session. A resolution is expected to be adopted on 8 February.

Marko Makovec, Deputy Managing Director for Europe at EEAS, quoted the preliminary statement of the observer mission, which stated that the elections were technically well organized but dominated by the decisive involvement of the President and systemic advantages of the ruling party which created unjust conditions.

“We are now waiting for the issuing of the final OSCE/ODIHR report and the recommendations, which the Serbian authorities indicated readiness to implement”, he said.

He also stated that EEAS would support an independent investigation and look into the ways how to do so, considering EU instruments.

Michael Miller, Head of the Unit for Serbia and Montenegro at DG NEAR, reminded that the rule of law and the proper functioning of democratic institutions are at the core of Serbia’s EU integration process.

“Once the final OSCE/ODIHR report is published, we wish to see Serbia quickly implement the recommendations in a transparent and inclusive manner”, he said.

He added that the Commission was closely following post-electoral developments, including the protests, which were overwhelmingly peaceful in nature, but one of them escalated into violence in December, which is unacceptable.

“I do want to stress that empowered civil society is a crucial component of any democratic system and should be recognized as such by the state institutions. I have this week, with this very point in mind, met with the student activists who traveled from Belgrade to Brussels to share with us their views of the situation on the ground”, Miller said.

Alessandra Moretti (S&D), chair of the European Parliament Delegation for Serbia, said that the findings of the observers were concerning, including the fact that the opposition was not given proper space in the media.

“We need Serbia in the EU but not at any cost. We know what happens when an accession of a country veers away from EU standards. An inquiry into irregularities is needed”, Moretti said.

The comments from the Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimír Bilčík (EPP), who was absent from the meeting, were read by MEP Michael Gahler.

“I emphasize a thorough investigation of the electoral process is needed, which are carried out with utmost efficiency and transparency. A properly functioning parliament and government, free of frequent snap elections, need to be formed as soon as possible. It is in the hands of Serbia to calm the situation in the country. The report of OSCE/ODIHR will serve as a valuable source of improvement of electoral conditions”, Bilčík said.

Klemen Grošelj (Renew Europe) said that elections on 17 December did not meet the standards of free and fair elections and stressed that institutions which carried out the irregularities will not investigate themselves.

“We can pretend that everything is good, everything is normal and everything will remain the same at the moment. At certain point there will be a breakthrough, which will never happen, on Kosovo-Serbia relations, but we can hope. We have been hoping for 12 years and more, and we can wait for 12 more years, but the question is whether the Serbian society can wait that long”, Grošelj said.

Jean-Lin Lacapelle (ID) said that the last week’s plenary debate showed other MEPs were rooting for the victory of the opposition and accused the EU of inciting destabilisation of Serbia.

Viola von Cramon (Greens/EFA) reiterated her statement from last week’s plenary, that she had not witnessed elections like this in 20 years of election observation.

“The statement of HRVP and the Commissioner was rather a non-statement… I would like to see something either from the EEAS, the Commission or this house to take a more active role”, she said.

Thijs Reuten (S&D) said that the elections in Belgrade were stolen and that the country was suffering from state capture.

“I do not need a new OSCE/ODIHR report because I still have the one from last year, which noted unfair election conditions. How long are we going to continue with our appeasement policy towards Serbia? Can you mention me one concrete, tangible result that benefited our relationship? Even the (Kosovo) car plates from December were used to distract us from elections”, he said.

MEP Andor Deli, meanwhile, questioned the reasons for holding putting this issue on the agenda of AFET, when it was already discussed in plenary last week.

“I am afraid that the real reason why the session is repeated after the plenary is to exert additional political pressure on EEAS and the European Commission”, said Deli, adding it was inappropriate for a representative of the Serbian embassy not to be invited.

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