REFORM OF SECURITY SERVICES IN SERBIA in light of the European integration

Predrag Petrović and Jelena Pejić Nikić from the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy analyzed the role and place of security services reform in the EU accession process of Serbia, highlighted key problems and gave recommendations on how to solve them.

The European Union should pay more attention to the security and intelligence sectors in the accession process of Western Balkan countries, given the great potential for the abuse of this sector for the purposes of state capture, - this is one of the key recommendations in the new policy paper of the prEUgovor coalition.

The reform of security services is a very challenging task. Each government finds it difficult to forgo inherited, even if inappropriate, mechanisms of control and influence on the security-intelligence sector, which derive their power from secret and exclusive access to information. This is why it is, in the first place, necessary to establish mechanisms and procedures that prevent the abuse of covert data collection and make effective oversight and control possible, in line with standards of democracy and the rule of law. This process should be followed by a comprehensive reform of human resources so that the services’ employees internalize these standards and values.

In these large efforts states often require external assistance. For Serbia in the EU accession process, the European Union and its member states act as partners, role models and incentives for effective reforms.

Up until now EU has only marginally tackled the work of security services in Serbia within the scope of accession negotiations. That is a consequence of the lack of EU acquis in this field. However, the EU has been forced to deal with these issues once a deep rule of law crisis has erupted in North Macedonia, in whose core lied abuse of the civil intelligence service for political party purposes. The ever more obvious capturing of the security sector in Serbia to which civil society points is a serious reason for EU to proactively act in a similar direction in other countries of the region, which are, in words of the European Commission, facing elements of state a capture.

Clientelism and personal-partisan relations have become a more significant regulator of relations between politics and security services than the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Serbia. While the transparency of security services is being decreased and the discretionary powers of their officials are increasing, the work of institutions which should, according to the Constitution and laws, oversee the work of services is made pointless. In this context, the security services are (increasingly) overstepping their competencies and powers and are (increasingly) acting as a political police service. Protection of the constitutional order and fight against espionage are being transformed into protection of the ruling party and fight against internal enemies, while organized crime and corruption linked to party officials is tolerated or even protected.

In order to respond adequately to these processes, the EU should commission an independent in-depth analyses of the state of rule of law in all countries of the such as the Priebe report which has been done for North Macedonia. There are two main reasons why EU should be included: a) security services are the key levers for state capture, which causes the collapse of rule of law and sets back the progress of a country in the accession process; b) a captured security service is not a reliable partner for exchange of sensitive intelligence information in the fight against cross-border security challenges, risks and threats. The European Union must be sure that the information which it gets from the services form the region isn’t obtained through illegal means, by violating citizen’s rights, and that the information it gives to those services won’t end in the wrong hands.

First section of this paper reflects on the role of the European Union in monitoring and inciting effective reform of security services in the Western Balkan states within its enlargement policy. Over the following pages it is shown in detail how to regulate covert surveillance of communications and the human resources of the security services in a manner that would reduce the likelihood of abuse. The authors’ recommendations are concisely listed instead of a conclusion, and the recommendations from the Priebe report are enclosed in the end.

This publication is part of the action is supported by the European Union through the program “Civil Society Facility” under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). The contents of the publication are the sole responsibility of the publisher and views expressed in this document are not necessarily those of the European Union.