The fourth prEUgovor monitoring report covers the period from October 2014 to April 2015.
The coalition prEUgovor has been monitoring Serbia’s progress in regard to the adherence to political criteria for EU membership and policies covered under Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and Chapter 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) of the European acquis in the negotiation process.
The reporting period was marked by three key events.
First, the Action Plans for Chapters 23 and 24, as the two key strategic documents listing concrete reform measures to be implemented and serving as the opening benchmark for Serbia for negotiations under these two chapters, were drafted and finalised with the participation of civil society organisations.
The main conclusion regarding the existing drafts of Action Plans is that they provide a substantial roadmap for reforms needed in these two chapters, but their final versions need to be updated with realistic deadlines, resources for implementation and in regard to the protection of personal data and rights of crime victims.
Second, there was evident backsliding in the area of the rule of law, primarily concerning the Government`s pressure on the independent state institutions.
This development is of gravest concern, since these institutions act as a control check for the government`s actions, assuring that the citizens` rights are respected and that state institutions operate within their competences in line with positive law.
Lastly, the previous period was marked by the process of drafting and several rounds of public consultations regarding the new Law on Police.
Taking into account that professional, efficient and accountable police is the key precondition for the safety of citizens and successful reforms under Chapter 24, it is of utmost importance that the new Law on Police should provide a solid basis for police reform in line with EU standards and best practices.
Generally, the progress in the areas covered by the prEUgovor report can best be described as limited and uneven.
When it comes to the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, some progress was achieved, given that the agreements on the integration of the judiciary and civil protection units in northern Kosovo were reached.
Civilian and democratic control of armed forces was hampered as independent state institutions had difficulties in conducting oversight of the security sector.
The access to justice was severely restricted due to the fourmonth strike of the Bar Association of Serbia.
In the area of fight against corruption there were positive developments, although far behind the planned dynamics envisaged in the Government`s strategic plans and programmes.
No progress was achieved in the areas of women`s rights, gender equality, children`s rights or the procedural rights for victims.
The new draft Law on Police introduces some positive changes, primarily related to professional human resources management, yet fails to address the most pressing issue, namely politicisation of the police.
In the areas of migration and asylum no substantial progress was achieved.
The area of fight against trafficking in human beings saw no progress and for almost three years already Serbia has not adopted a strategy or action plan for this policy area.
Based on the monitored areas, the prEUgovor coalition suggests further general recommendations to be adopted in order to implement the necessary reforms more efficiently. These are as follows:
1. It is necessary that civil society organisations (CSOs) be included in the process of monitoring the implementation of Action Plans for Chapters 23 and 24.
Taking into account that these Action Plans represent a roadmap for the most comprehensive set of reforms to be undertaken in the two most crucial areas for further democratisation and establishing the rule of law in Serbia, it is necessary that CSOs and other interested parties be included in the process of monitoring their implementation. This is necessary so as to assure that the envisaged reforms are undertaken in line with the suggested timeframes, that citizens` rights are protected in the process, and that introduced reforms are actually producing positive effects on the ground in order to prove the positive track-record for the most important policy areas.
2. It is of utmost importance to establish, as soon as possible, effective mechanisms for the protection of rights of victims of criminal acts.
This area of protection seems to be the last one in government plans, putting all the emphasis on rights of the suspects/accused/convicted, and forgetting that in order to adequately prosecute and punish the perpetrators of crime, the state has to protect, in all ways, the victims of these acts (by prescribing emergency protection measures, establishing services for victims, adapting special rooms for audio-visual interviewing of victims, etc.). Moreover, the rights of victims of criminal acts are not adequately addressed in Action Plans for Chapters 23 and 24, leading to the conclusion that the Government of Serbia has no intention to resolve these issues in the foreseeable future.
3. It is essential that the Government of Serbia should invest significant efforts to assure that the principle of the rule of law be respected.
The reported period witnessed significant backsliding in relation to democratic values, the division of powers between the Government`s branches, as well as functioning of independent state institutions. It is absolutely necessary that the Government of Serbia should assure the primacy of law in its conduct, paying special attention to respecting the division of powers and assuring that state institutions and the public administration act within their limits as prescribed by national legislation.