21st Feb 2019

EU report strongly criticises Serbia's progress

  • The Serbian parliament in Belgrade: Serbia has been criticised by the European Commission for lack of reform (Photo: Konrad Zielinski)

Apart from a few warm words on the fight against drugs and organised crime, the European Commission does not see much cause to applaud Serbia in this year's progress report.

The report, seen by WAZ.EUobserver, contains an abundance of criticism of Serbia's lack of judiciary reform and against a market economy caught up in red tape. The Brussels body also raises a warning finger against the discrimination of minorities.

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The most sensitive part of the progress report, however, is quite balanced, testifying to partial improvements in Serbia's relationships in the region.

The commission praises Serbia's steps towards reconciliation with neighbouring countries, particularly with Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it underlines that full cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague remains an international obligation and a key priority of the European partnership. The importance of good relations with Pristina is also highlighted.

"Serbia needs to demonstrate a more constructive attitude towards Kosovo's participation in regional trade and cooperation," says the report. "It should recognize Kosovo's customs stamps and strengthened cooperation with the EULEX rule of law mission. Regional cooperation was affected by a lack of agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on the latter's participation in regional meetings."

The report's writers are calling for cooperation: "An acceptable and sustainable solution for the participation of both in regional fora needs to be agreed as soon as possible. This is essential for inclusive and functioning regional cooperation. Serbia still does not accept the Kosovo customs stamps notified by UNMIK. In Kosovo, Serbia maintained parallel structures and organised parallel municipal by-elections," said the report, which will be publicly presented by enlargement commissioner Stefan Füle on 10 November in Brussels.

In order to correctly gauge the paper's gist, it is necessary to decipher Brussels' diplomatic vocabulary. "Some progress" or "limited progress" means that a country has not performed too well. "Progress" stands for sufficient but not impressive results. When the commission mentions "good progress" or "substantial progress", that amounts to a verbal slap on the back, meaning that the country has lived up to expectations.

While the Brussels executive is applauding Serbia for making "progress" towards meeting the political criteria, its assessment of judicial reforms is rather embarrassing for the Balkan state.

"Judicial reform has continued but there were serious shortcomings and non-transparency in the reappointment procedure of judges and prosecutors. Judges and prosecutors were not heard during the procedure and did not receive adequate explanations for the decisions. This puts into question the independence of the judiciary and may give room for political influence.

"The substantial backlog of pending cases remains a matter of concern. Corruption remains prevalent in many areas and continues to be a serious problem. In the absence of a new law, control of the funding of political parties and financing of election campaigns remains weak. The number of final convictions, especially in high-level cases, remain low. Public procurement, privatization and public expenditure remain areas of concern," the report said.

The commission will urge Serbia to undertake further efforts to improve the quality of its legislation and bring electoral laws fully into line with European standards.

"The coalition government remained stable and continued to demonstrate a high degree of consensus on EU integration as a strategic priority. However the preparation and implementation of new legislation need to become more effective."

Constitutional and legislative provisions for the protection of freedom of expression are in place, according to the report, but incidents involving hate speech, threats and attacks, in particular against journalists, have continued.

Despite laws protecting social and economic rights, discrimination continues to be practiced, particularly against Roma, the gay and lesbian community, women, national minorities and disabled people.

No progress has been registered regarding property rights, an area without an adequate legal basis for property restitution. Economic criteria have not been well met either.

"The progress in establishing a functioning market economy has been limited," says the report. "Serbia needs to make more efforts in restructuring its economy so as to cope in the medium term with the competitive pressures and market forces within the EU. The adoption of timely and appropriate measures in agreement with the IMF was key in re-establishing macroeconomic stability.

"Serbia has further postponed the reforms to tackle the biggest structural shortcomings. Despite gradual economic recovery, the labour market continued to deteriorate with decreasing employment and increasing unemployment."

The commission also notes the repeated delay in privatising state-owned companies and that the business environment continues to be dominated by red tape and a lack of legal predictability. Furthermore, deficiencies in competition and infrastructure bottlenecks remain barriers to business.

The most positive part of the progress report states that Serbia is well advanced in the sector of industry, small and medium enterprises, agriculture and food safety and that good progress has been made in the fight against drugs and organised crime.


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