Improvement of the reporting on progress in chapters 23 i 24 necessary

Coalition prEUgovor welcomes the decision of the Serbian Government's Negotiating Team to publish the European Commission's Report on the current state in chapters 23 i 24 for Serbia, so called non-paper, which is available at the European Integration Office website. We consider the availability of documents from the negotiation process to be essential to the informing of the citizens, inclusion of all the actors that could contribute to this process, and most importantly, for the success and the sustainability of the reforms that are conducted. This is especially important in situation where there are no reliable information, or when they exist, but are not publicly available, which could indicate the state of affairs in certain areas. This is also one of the recommendations mentioned on the first page of the EC Report, where Serbia is urged to increase the attention and efforts in the field of providing statistical data.

Generally speaking, non-paper provides the state of affairs in the area of the rule of law and the progress made by Serbia in the second half of 2016. Since due to the new work dynamics, the Progress report will not be published during this yeat, but in the Spring of 2018, this is at the same time the only report of the European commission dealing in Serbia and the key areas concerning the rule of law. In the report, EC concludes that Serbia has set ambitious deadlines in the Action plans for the chapters 23 and 24, and that their implementation is in the early stages, mainly the drafting of laws strategies, estimations and analysis. In the coming period, focus of tracking success will shift from evaluating of the legislative framework to the evaluating the efficiency of the reforms in practice, as well as the institutional capacities for the implementation of laws. Moreover, European commission points out to the priorities on which Serbia needs additional work - availability of data, judicial reform, fight against corruption, fundamental rights and the fight against organized crime.

What is missing in the Government of Serbia’s reports on the basis of which the EC Report was written?

Coalition prEUgovor considers that now is the right time to improve the reporting on reforms, with the goal of more objective tracking of situation on the ground and even effective communication of the reforms which Serbia implements in the framework of the negotiation process. In this regard, we draw attention to the following ways in which the monitoring mechanism can be made more complete and precise.

Firstly, if we take into consideration that the primary source of information for this non-paper are the reports of the Government of Serbia on the fulfillement of the action plans for the Chapter 23 and Chapter 24, it is necessary to draw attention to the weakness of these documents that are reflected in the European Commission's document. Coalition prEUgovor has already pointed out towards the shortcomings of the semi-annual government reports for Chapter 23 that are reflected in "creative" interpretations of the fulfillment or lack of implementation effects, as well as illogical and inconsistent items in the semi-annual report for Chapter 24. Non-paper itself doesn't at any time touch upon the quality of the Government of Serbia report, which would be necessary due to identified shortcomings and omissions.

Secondly, non-paper contains a few of the factual errors. Individually, these errors do not affect the overall assessment of the situation to a greater extent, but collectively, they testify about problems in the process of gathering information and reporting on the conducted activities. These omissions are such that they lead to the conclusion that the EC has taken from the Serbian Government's report parts of the text without further verification.

Typical example of the non-critical usage of information on corruption refers to the report of High Civil Service Council. It is stated that this report contains "analysis of provisions and aplications" of Code of conduct for civil servants. Actually, that report does not contain the analysis of provisions of the Code, while in connection with the application of the Code, aggregated data on the application of the Code in certain state administration bodies can be found, but not the general analysis of the application of this act or its effects. In the area of combating and preventing trafficking in human beings, it is stated that the Centre for Human Trafficking Victims Protection (CHTVP) is managed by "one non-governmental organization", which is incorrect because this institution is actually social protection institution within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs. On the other hand, non-paper didn’t comment on the fact that CHTVP does not cooperate enough with the CSOs, which directly threatens the rights of human trafficking victims. Also, at the same page in the document it is stated that "the jurisdiction to conduct investigations into human trafficking cases was finally transferred from the border police to the criminal police". However, this process is still ongoing and has not been completed. Other flaws in the EC report were noted, which, if need be, coalition prEUgovor can point out.

What is missing from the Governemnt of Serbia and EU reports?

Thirdly, non-paper does not contain information on all reform steps undertaken within the implementation of the action plans for chapters 23 and 24. A critical example is the organizational reform of the police, which is described in the Action Plan for Chapter 24 only in the introduction to the document, and the activities envisaged are not reported on, unlike all the other measures. Therefore, the Action Plan does not specify the stakeholders, the necessary means and methods for checking whether the announced change has been achieved.

Despite the fact that the Report of screening for Chapter 24 states that "a professional, reliable and efficient police organization is essential" for all the other reports within the Chapter 24, and that there is a recommendation from the EC to assess the need for further reforms and rationalizations in the police/MoI structure, on these key reform steps only partial information exist. The availability of this information is important to enable monitoring of the implementation of this recommendation, which will have a tangible impact on people's lives. It can lead to the creation of a new network of regional police directorate, or to a change in the working and legal status of employees in the police, and therefore it is necessary to inform the employees and the public in a timely manner about this reform.

With the desire to contribute to the further democratization of Serbia and the implementation of key reforms in the field of rule of law, the coalition prEUgovor reiterates that it is necessary to make statistical data and documents from the process of accession negotiations with the EU available to the public as much as possible. Only through uniform data and publicly validable sources is it possible to conduct a constructive dialogue on the scope of reforms. The coalition prEUgovor will be a partner to all stakeholders working to achieve these goals and is ready to provide a more detailed analysis of the findings in the areas covered.