Rule of law – Serbia's unresolved matter

The ninth meeting of the EU-Serbia Joint Consultative Committee (JCC), that took place in Belgrade on 10-11 October, gathered members of the European Economic and Social Committee and representatives of Serbian civil society organisations (CSOs). The general agreement was that, despite the progress made in some areas, Serbia has still a long way to go to meet interim benchmarks in the field of rule of law and Copenhagen political criteria for its accession to the EU.

For the first time, on 10 October members of the JCC held consultations with more than 50 additional representatives of Serbian CSOs on the topic of Enabling civic space and state of democracy in Serbia.

The members of the EU-Serbia JCC analysed in a Joint Declaration the state of play of Serbia's progress towards the accession to the EU, with 17 chapters open, of which two are provisionally closed. However, the situation of the rule of law, media freedom and the poor state of democracy in the country are still a big concern for JCC members and the main obstacle that hinders Serbia's accession to the European Union.

Ana Milićević-Pezelj, co-chair of the JCC from the EU side, said: The country that wants to join the EU needs to adopt common EU values enshrined in the Treaties that form the foundation of the EU. In this regard, members of the JCC welcomed the findings of the European Commission's "Serbia 2019 Report" and invited Serbian authorities to analyse the findings of this report and to implement its recommendations.

The JCC also called the new European Parliament and the new European Commission to continue to support EU's enlargement policy and invited the upcoming Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU to bring new impetus into the enlargement process at the EU-Western Balkans Summit that will take place in May 2020. At the same time, the JCC expressed its hope that the appointment process of the new commissioner responsible for enlargement policy will take into account the candidate's competences to credibly promote the rule of law and fundamental rights.

Independent bodies

Members of the JCC agreed with the views expressed by the European Commission in its "Serbia 2019 report" that polarised political scene in Serbia has a negative impact on the work of democratic institutions.

In their Joint Declaration, they also expressed their concern that the amendment proposed by the Serbian government to the national Constitution will not allow an independent judiciary, free from political influence. In full agreement with European Commission's "Serbia 2019 Report", the JCC pointed out the urgent need to guarantee and support the role of independent bodies in Serbia.

An example of this would be the Ombudsman's annual report, discussed at the Serbian Parliament for the first time after several years, although the JCC was not pleased with the quality of the debates and the lack of obligation to implement their recommendations.

Civic dialogue

The members of the JCC also condemned the attacks on CSOs by representatives of the government, the parliament and government-funded media and expressed their concern for the lack of progress in establishing an enabling environment for the development and financing of civil society.

Boško Savković, co-chair from the Serbian side insisted on this topic: Social dialogue exists in Serbia, but it is only an appearance, to tick the boxes, it doesn't really work well, he said. For this reason, the EU-Serbia JCC urged Serbia to conduct "genuine, and not only formal, tripartite social dialogue within the Social and Economic Council".

The JCC agreed that the Copenhagen political criteria for accession should become a permanent part of the JCC's meeting agenda, along with ensuring an enabling environment for civil society. The next JCC meeting should be held in Brussels in February 2020.

Context

The EU-Serbia Civil Society Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) is one of the bodies set up within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Union and Serbia. The JCC enables civil society organisations (CSOs) from both sides to monitor Serbia's progress towards the European Union, and to adopt recommendations for the attention of the government of Serbia and the EU institutions. The JCC is made up of 18 members, nine from each side, representing the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and Serbian civil society.

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