Alarm Report on Progress of Serbia in Cluster 1 - November 2021

During the reporting period - from May to October 2021 - the implementation of formal activities in certain areas of Cluster 1 continued at an accelerated pace, especially in connection with the constitutional changes in the field of judiciary. These activities are mostly of a normative character, representing only the initial step towards the desired social change, and are still lacking tangible results. The activities are also mostly late and are compensating for the processes that should have been completed a few years back. As part of the civil society, Coalition prEUgovor is still not satisfied with the quality of the process of drafting laws, strategies and policies, or the resulting solutions. The way in which the activities are carried out, their dynamics and the official narrative that accompanies them confirm the earlier impression that this is actually a “ticking-of-boxes” approach that seeks to create a picture of progress that will be sufficient to open new clusters in Serbia’s accession negotiations with the European Union.

Activities have intensified not only because of the delays and revised deadlines, but also because of the extraordinary parliamentary and regular presidential elections, which have been announced for the spring of 2022. Although a shortened term of the legislature was announced immediately after the elections in the summer of 2020 due to the under-representation of the opposition in the Parliament, the same monolithic parliamentary composition is expected to adopt the constitutional amendments and other (related) highly important regulations such as the Constitutional Law and the Law on Referendum and People’s Initiative. PrEUgovor fears that catching up at the last minute before the set deadlines will damage the democratic processes.

At the same time, political and social polarisation is growing. Although the dialogue has been organised on certain issues, many proposals were rejected without proper justification. The authorities continue to (ab)use institutional and media channels to discredit political opponents, as well as critically inclined media, civil society organisations and individuals.

Progress is not visible in critical areas monitored by the prEUgovor coalition, such as media freedom and the fight against corruption and organised crime. In addition to these, the European Commission regularly emphasises obstacles regarding the domestic handling of war crimes and public administration reform, which cannot be viewed in isolation from the (non)functioning democratic institutions. Poor performance in all above-mentioned areas has been reiterated, albeit in a milder tone, in the recently published annual report on Serbia, the first that was prepared based on the new enlargement methodology. Still, the European Commission recommended opening two new clusters in the accession negotiations with Serbia. PrEUgovor reminds that the last negotiation chapter was opened at the end of 2019.

There has been some improvement in Serbian officials’ public communication about the European Union. Unlike the previous period, this time there were no conspicuous or direct attacks on the EU. Members of the government explained Serbia’s stagnation in the negotiation process by EU’s unwillingness to continue or accelerate the process. There was a visible lack of introspection and no mention of Serbia’s direct problems in complying with the accepted responsibilities.

The prEUgovor coalition expresses hope that the new enlargement methodology will be used to better interconnect the areas pertaining to Cluster 1 (Fundamentals). The coalition welcomes the mention of “enlargement“ in the Brdo Declaration, which was missing from the previous declarations from the EU[1]Western Balkans summits, as well as the promised investment package for the region and the intention to hold summits on a regular basis. On the other hand, the continuing blockade of the start of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia undermines the credibility of the EU enlargement policy. Further Rule of Law decline in certain EU Member States has a significant negative influence on the reform processes in aspirant countries.

Alarm Report on Progress of Serbia in Cluster 1 - November 2021