The European Commission’s report on Serbia, published last week, shows overall limited progress in key chapters related to the rule of law. The term “limited progress” implies that some steps have been taken, but much remains to be done. However, pro-government media in Serbia presented the report positively, without any mention of criticism from Brussels.
News regarding the findings of the EC report was first published by Tanjug news agency on Monday, two days before the official release of the report. In the article “European Commission confirms Serbia’s progress in crucial areas,” Tanjug formulated the narrative that the results are positive. Other pro-government media, as well as Serbian Radio and Television, reported the news from Tanjug.
“The European Commission, in its new report for 2023, recognized Serbia’s progress in the judicial and media fields, and there was an improvement in the assessment of alignment with EU foreign policy” , wrote Tanjug.
EURACTIV Serbia, a portal whose content is in the hands of Igor Žeželj, who maintains close ties with Serbian authorities, expresses a similar sentiment, saying that the European Commission will recognize Serbia’s progress in media, justice reforms and migration policy. Unlike Tanjug, Euractiv suggests that there are still some problems, but overall the portal presents that Serbia is doing well when it comes to necessary reforms.
“We believe that our reforms will be evaluated in more detail due to two key challenges Serbia currently faces, namely Banjska and its relations with Russia. However, despite these difficulties, Serbia has achieved significant success in implementing the recommendations. In other words, there is no step backwards, only progress,” reports Euractiv.
Citizens of Serbia were able to hear from the highest state officials that there was no cause for concern and that the findings of the report were positive. The only issues raised by the government are those related to the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.
“I think it is important to note progress in 31 of the 34 areas. It is crucial for our democracy to see improvement in the media field. This is important because of the many lies that have been spread during the previous period. We should not expect revolutionary changes; it is important to move forward on the European path, but we must also preserve our vital national interests. For me, the most important indicators are economic indicators,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.
Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabic expressed her gratitude to the European Commission for its dedicated work, saying that progress has been seen in all key areas.
“Progress has been recorded in all key areas: the rule of law, the economy and fundamental rights. Stagnation was only seen in three areas, such as fishing, where we did not adopt an action plan,” Brnabic said.
What does the European Commission report say?
Each year, the European Commission assigns two descriptive notes to each negotiating chapter. The first concerns the overall level of preparation of the candidate country in this area, while the second assesses the progress made over the past year.
Concerning the first assessment, the level of preparedness, there are five categories: “early stage”, “some level of preparation”, “moderate level”, “good level” and “very advanced stage”.
If we convert these scores into numbers from 1 to 5 and calculate Serbia’s average score over 33 negotiating chapters, this year it amounts to 3.05. This represents a slight change from last year when it was 3.03.
Only in Chapter 17: Economic and Monetary Policy was the level of preparedness raised from “moderate level” (score 3) to “between moderate and good level” (score 3.5). This achievement, as stated in the report, was achieved through the adoption of new systems of budgetary rules through amendments to the Budget System Law in December 2022.
Concerning the second descriptive rating assigned by the European Commission, the progress ratings are divided into six categories: “regression”, “no progress”, “limited progress”, “some progress”, “good progress” and “very good progress” .
In last year’s report, Serbia received a “downgrade” rating for the foreign policy chapter, and no chapter received a “good progress” rating. This year, “good progress” was recorded in one of the 33 chapters, particularly in Chapter 18: Statistics, attributed to the successful conduct of the population census, as reported, in accordance with European and international standards.
The report said political polarization remained evident and became even more pronounced after the tragic mass shootings in early May. Serbia still needs to act on a number of long-standing recommendations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and Council bodies. Europe regarding the electoral framework.
According to the EC, the debates in Parliament were marked by tensions between the majority coalition in power and the opposition. The code of conduct is not systematically applied and the frequent use of inflammatory remarks is not penalized. Sanctions and fines were only imposed on opposition MPs.
The report states that further efforts are needed to ensure systematic and genuine cooperation between government and civil society. “An environment conducive to the creation, operation and financing of civil society organizations has yet to be created on the ground, while verbal attacks and smear campaigns against these organizations continue, particularly from senior officials. “.
Regarding the fight against corruption, EC noted that, overall, limited progress was made during the reporting period, including in relation to last year’s recommendations.
Concerning freedom of expression, limited progress was made during the reporting period. “The police and prosecutors responded quickly to several cases of attacks and threats, in collaboration with the permanent working group on the safety of journalists. However, cases of threats, intimidation, hate speech and violence against journalists remain of concern, as does the increase in Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), notably launched by members of national authorities and local, which can produce a deterrent effect, particularly on self-defense. -censorship,” EC said.