The European Commission’s report on Serbia, published last week, found limited overall progress in key chapters related to the rule of law. The term “limited progress” implies that some steps have been taken, but there is still much room for improvement. However, the pro-government media in Serbia presented the report positively, without mentioning the criticism from Brussels.
The Tanjug news agency first published the findings of the EU report on Monday, two days before the official publication of the report. In the article “European Commission confirms Serbia’s progress in key areas”, Tanjug described the narrative that the results were positive. Other pro-government media as well as Radio Television of Serbia reported Tanjug’s news.
“In its new report for 2023, the European Commission recognized Serbia’s progress in the field of justice and media and there was an improvement in the assessment of alignment with the EU’s foreign policy,” Tanjug wrote.
The citizens of Serbia have heard from the highest state officials that there is no cause for concern and that the results of the report are positive. The only issues mentioned by the government relate to the dialog between Belgrade and Pristina.
“I think it is important to note the progress in 31 out of 34 areas. For our democracy, improvement in the media sector is essential. This is important because of the many lies that were spread in the previous period. We should not expect revolutionary change; it is important to move forward on the European path, but we must also protect our vital national interests. “For me, the most important indicators are the economic ones,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, continuing the propaganda of the media he himself controls.
The Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabic, thanked the European Commission for its dedicated work and emphasized that progress had been made in all key areas.
“There has been progress in all key areas – rule of law, economy and fundamental rights.” “Stagnation can only be observed in three areas, such as fisheries, where we have not adopted an action plan,” said Brnabiq.
What does the European Commission report say?
Each year, the European Commission issues two descriptive assessments for each negotiation chapter. The first concerns the candidate country’s overall state of preparedness in this area, while the second assesses the progress made over the past year.
With regard to the first assessment, the degree of readiness, there are five categories: “early stage”, “some degree of readiness”, “medium degree”, “good degree” and “very advanced degree”.
If you convert these ratings into numbers from 1 to 5 and calculate the average rating for Serbia in 33 negotiation chapters, this year it is 3.05. This represents a slight change compared to the previous year, when it was 3.03.
Only in Chapter 17 “Economic and Monetary Policy” was the level of preparation raised from “moderate” (level 3) to “between moderate and good” (level 3.5). As outlined in the report, this success was achieved through the adoption of new tax control systems through amendments to the law on the budgetary system in December 2022.
With regard to the European Commission’s second descriptive assessment, the progress ratings are divided into six categories: “declining”, “no progress”, “limited progress”, “some progress”, “good progress” and “very good progress”.
In last year’s report, Serbia received a “declining” rating for the foreign policy chapter, and no chapter received a “good progress” rating. This year, “good progress” was noted in one of the 33 chapters, namely Chapter 18: Statistics, due to the successful completion of the census in line with EU and international standards, as stated.
The report states that the political polarization following the tragic mass shooting in early May is still evident and has intensified. Serbia has yet to address a number of long-standing recommendations from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and Council of Europe bodies on the electoral framework.
According to the EC, the debates in parliament were characterized by tensions between the ruling majority coalition and the opposition. The code of conduct was not systematically enforced and the frequent use of inflammatory language was not punished. 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 enabling environment for the establishment, management and funding of civil society organizations still needs to be created on the ground, as verbal attacks and smear campaigns against such organizations continue, including by high-ranking officials.”
With regard to the fight against corruption, the Commission noted that limited progress was made overall during the reporting period, including last year’s recommendations.
As far as freedom of expression is concerned, limited progress was made during the reporting period. “Police and prosecutors have responded quickly to several cases of attacks and threats and are cooperating with the permanent working group on the safety of journalists. However, cases of threats, intimidation, hate speech and violence against journalists remain a concern, as does the increase in strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), especially initiated by members of national and local authorities, which can produce a chilling effect including self-censorship”, declared the EC./The Geopost/