21st Oct 2018

EU meeting highlights Serbia corruption

Serbia may gain EU candidate status in 2009 but must crack down on corporate corruption, enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said at a Brussels event organised by Serb supermarket baron Miroslav Miskovic on Monday (20 October).

"I believe that, if conditions are met, [Serbia] could get candidate status next year," the commissioner said, "welcoming" Belgrade's decision last week to unilaterally implement the trade section of the EU's Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).

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  • Delta Holding owns shopping chains such as Maxi supermarkets, C-market and Pekabeta (Photo: wikipedia)

The EU's ratification of the SAA - an important pre-accession treaty - is on hold over Dutch objections that Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic remains at large. But Mr Rehn's speech targeted changes among the country's business elite instead.

"In the legal vacuum that followed the collapse of former Yugoslavia, corruption, organised crime, tax evasion, financial fraud as well as the grey economy emerged as serious problems," he said. "Justice, freedom and security, including the fight against corruption and organised crime are therefore EU priorities in Serbia."

"The mere signing of the [SAA] agreement is not sufficient," the commissioner added. "Ultimately, we rely on you, on the economic operators, to promote the respect of [EU] rules."

Mr Rehn made the remarks at a meeting of 30 to 40 CEOs of Serbian companies at Brussels' swanky Conrad Hotel. The event was organised by one of Serbia's richest men, Delta Holding chief Miroslav Miskovic, who has himself faced corruption allegations and who came to Brussels to sit alongside the commissioner on a discussion panel.

The billionaire financier and supermarket baron - a former deputy prime minister of Serb nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic - was in 2007 accused by Serbia's Anti Corruption Council of using political ties to try to establish a retail monopoly.

MPs from Serbia's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have also pointed the finger at Mr Rehn's host for alleged involvement in cigarette-smuggling.

"Pervasive political corruption undermines democratic interests in Serbia ... at the heart of this corruption is the President of Delta Holding Miroslav Miskovic. Serbia will not be able to move forward democratically as well as economically until the monopoly over Serbia's daily life by this Milosevic-era tycoon is ended," an internal note by the US embassy in Belgrade dated May 2007 and leaked by the LDP said.

A spokeswoman for the enlargement commissioner said Mr Rehn's anti-corruption speech was not aimed at Mr Miskovic personally and that there was no risk his participation at the Delta Holding event risked lending the company his good name.

"Certainly not. This problem [corruption] is very widespread in the Balkans," she explained. "He [the commissioner] did not participate for the sake of any one person."

Serbia came in at joint 85th place on NGO Transparency International 2008 corruption index along with Albania, Madagascar and Panama, slipping down from 79th place the year before. An EU report on the country's progress is due next month.

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