The period from November 2020 to April 2021 was marked by the accelerated activity of the newly formed Government and Parliament to compensate for a year that Serbia lost on its path to European integration. However, monitoring that was conducted by the prEUgovor coalition in the past six months infers that these renewed efforts are rather a continuation of the former checking-the-box approach, which so far has failed to achieve convincing results in monitored areas, namely political criteria and Chapters 23 and 24. Although the declarative commitment to Serbia’s EU path remains unchanged (albeit now and then interrupted by outbursts of anti-EU rhetoric), the coalition is still not convinced that there is in fact political will to bring about substantial reforms.
Although criticism of the lack of progress in key areas in Serbia has become more visible in the reports of EU institutions, as well as other international bodies and organisations in 2020, Serbian authorities tend to marginalise and/or discredit all negative remarks. Although opportunities for formal dialogue on certain issues have been provided, there is no impression that dissenting opinions and arguments are either heard or addressed, indicating form without substance.
The coalition reiterates that speeding up reform efforts to meet the set deadlines should not, however, go to the detriment of the consultative processes preceding the adoption of normative and strategic acts. Better coordination of activities that overlap in the Action Plans for Chapters 23 and 24 is necessary, as well as effective, consistent and transparent formal monitoring. Since the functioning of democratic institutions and Chapters 23 and 24 are now part of the Fundamentals Cluster, along with economic criteria and public administration reform, the new methodology should be used to better interlink these areas.
The European Union remains the largest donor, investor and trade partner of Western Balkan states. It has also provided assistance to the region in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The new Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans is an opportunity to boost sustainable economic growth in the region. On the other hand, inability to reach a consensus on starting accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia represents another blow to the credibility of the EU enlargement policy. Western Balkan countries were not invited to the Conference on the Future of Europe. Further Rule of Law decline in certain EU Member States has a significant negative influence on the reform processes in aspirant countries.
Coalition prEUgovor reminds the EU that the enlargement policy is its most effective foreign policy instrument and the foundation of its influence in the Western Balkans. It also reminds the Government of Serbia that the accession process cannot be a goal in and of itself, but is rather a means to achieve substantial progress in further democratisation and state organisation based on the rule of law.
The report is published as part of two projects implemented by the prEUgovor coalition:
"PrEUgovor for Rule of Law and EU integration of Serbia" supported by Balkan Trust for Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade.
"PrEUgovor Policy Watch: building alliances for stronger impact in uncertain future," funded by the European Union.