European Commission says Serbia achieved limited progress in key areas

EU, EK, Evropska komisija
Aris Oikonomou/AFP

The European Commission said in its latest report on Serbia that the country achieved only limited progress in reforming the public administration, improving the judiciary and combating corruption and organized crime.

“Serbia needs to ensure merit-based recruitment and a reduction in the excessive number of acting senior manager positions, strong quality control role for the Public Policy Secretariat in policy development and coordination, and a single mechanism for prioritizing all investments regardless of the type and source of financing,” the report said about public administration reform.

The European Commission said that “The system for judicial appointments and for evaluating the work of judges and prosecutors needs to be thoroughly revised following the adoption of the constitutional amendments, to allow for merit-based judicial recruitments and careers since the current legal framework does not provide sufficient guarantees against potential political influence over the judiciary”.

According to the report Serbia has not adopted a new anti-corruption strategy and action plan nor has it set up an effective coordination mechanism to effectively address corruption … and should step up the prevention and repression of corruption. The country also does not have a “convincing track record of effective investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in serious and organised crime cases, including financial investigations leading to a track record of freezing and confiscating criminal assets”, the report said and added that the number of convictions for organised crime decreased compared to 2019. “Serbia should adapt its approach from one based on cases to a strategy against organisations, and from focusing on cases of low or medium importance to high profile cases aiming at dismantling big and internationally spread organisations and seizing the assets,” it said.

The report said that the political climate remained polarized and added that all political actors need to engage constructively and in good faith, and implement the measures identified in September 2021 by the Co-facilitators from the European and Serbian Parliament during the inter-party dialogue. “Inflammatory language against political opponents and representatives of other institutions expressing diverging political views was still used during parliamentary debates. All politicians should counter hate speech and contribute to a political dialogue on EU-related reforms, particularly on the fundamentals of democracy and the rule of law,”the report said. “ An enabling environment for developing and financing civil society organisations (CSOs) still needs to be established on the ground, as verbal attacks against CSOs continued, including in Parliament,” it added.

It said that Serbia started addressing long-standing recommendations by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) and the government reinstated the relevant working group on elections. “All key recommendations should be implemented in an inclusive and transparent manner, based on wider political consensus and well ahead of the next elections,” the report said.

Serbia needs to ensure the consistent and effective implementation of the legislative and institutional framework for fundamental right.

Limited progress was also achieved on freedom of expression with verbal attacks against journalists by high-level officials continuing as well as cases of threats and violence all of which remain a concern. “The overall environment for exercising freedom of expression without hindrance still needs to be further strengthened in practice,” the report said.

Serbia’s economy is moderately prepared to develop into a functioning market economy and the tax administration has made some progress on reforms, it said but added that major structural reforms of the public administration and state-owned companies is progressing slowly. It said that there has been no progress in strengthening fiscal rules with the state maintaining a strong footprint in the economy. The private sector is underdeveloped and hampered by weaknesses in the rule of law, in particular corruption and judicial inefficiency, and in the enforcement of fair competition.

The report said that Serbia needs to step up its protection of whistle-blowers and investigate allegations in high corruption cases, in order to strengthen trust in the institutions, adding that 128 of 177 cases filed in 2020 were finalized and specifically mentioning the Krusik whistleblower case which was noted in the previous report.

“Serbia overall remained committed to bilateral relations with other enlargement countries and neighbouring EU Member States but relations with Montenegro have been marked by continued tensions. In general, Serbia actively participates in regional cooperation, the report said.

“Serbia needs to make further substantial efforts on the implementation of all past agreements and contribute to reaching a comprehensive legally binding normalisation agreement with Kosovo. Such an agreement is urgent and crucial so that Kosovo and Serbia can advance on their respective European paths,” it said.

Serbia has done important work on alignment with the EU acquis over many areas, particularly on taxation and energy, the report said.