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The European Commission Report on the Republic of Serbia

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The European Commission is a political body of the European Union (EU) that functions like a government – it proposes laws and implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and it is made up of 27 representatives who do not represent the member states but jointly decide on the most important issues. The European Commission also is the body that analyzes progress which candidate countries has made in key areas. In this respect, this institution annually publishes report on the (mis)achievements of the member countries, advising respective countries in which area(s) adjustments or deep changes and reforms are needed. Serbia, along with Montenegro, is considered a leader in the membership negotiation process, but as of 2021, it has not opened a single cluster due to its refusal to impose sanctions on Russia.

The European Commission Report on the Republic of Serbia

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When it comes to political criteria, the European Commission observes that the National Assembly constituted in August 2022 includes opposition parties that boycotted the elections in 2020. However, political polarization remained evident and was further deepened after the tragic mass shootings in early May. Numerous peaceful mass protests of citizens – Serbia against violence – were held with the support of several opposition parties.

Debates in the Assembly were marked by tensions between the ruling majority coalition and the opposition. The Assembly does not have an annual work plan and most sessions are convened with a minimum notice of 24 hours before the session, which should only be used in exceptional circumstances. The code of conduct was not systematically enforced, and the frequent use of inflammatory language was not punished. Sanctions and fines were imposed only on opposition MPs. The rules of procedure of the National Assembly should be modernized, and the code of conduct should be applied in solving the misdemeanors of deputies. All but two political groups were engaged constructively with the European Parliament in the continuation of the inter-party dialogue and its development into a new parliamentary dialogue process.

No elections were held in the reporting period, but Serbia still needs to deal with a series of long-term recommendations of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) and Council of Europe bodies regarding the electoral framework. The elections scheduled for December 17th, 2023, will show if there are weaknesses within the existing system.

According to the Report, further efforts are needed to ensure systematic and genuine cooperation between government and civil society. An enabling environment for the formation, operation and financing of civil society organizations has yet to be established on the ground, as verbal attacks and smear campaigns against such organizations have continued, among others from high-ranking officials.

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When comes to the field of public administration reform, Serbia is moderately prepared. Overall, limited progress has been achieved in this area, especially through the continuous development of e-services, implementation of e-government policy and further implementation of training for civil servants. In the area of ​​human resources management, more than half of senior management positions are still filled by acting officials. Regarding policy development and coordination, no mechanism has yet been established to verify whether the comments of the Public Policy Secretariat are included in the final versions of laws and policy documents submitted to the government for approval. In terms of public financial management, action is still needed to fully implement the recommendation for a single mechanism for prioritizing all investments regardless of the type and source of funding.

From the other hand, the judicial system of Serbia is at a certain level of preparedness. Overall, some progress was made during the reporting period. Serbia has taken an important step towards strengthening the independence and accountability of the judiciary by timely adopting most of the implementing laws that practically put the constitutional amendments from 2022 into force, while two implementing laws have yet to be adopted: the Law on the Judicial Academy and the Law on Seats and Areas of Courts. The Venice Commission issued three opinions that overall positively evaluated the adopted implementing legislation and recognized the transparency and inclusiveness of the process. Most of his recommendations are addressed. The corresponding by-laws will have to be adopted by May 2024. The High Council of the Judiciary (HCJ) and the High Council of Prosecutors (HPC) were established on 8 May, after the election of prominent members, which practically implemented the implementing legislation.

Serbia is at a certain level of preparedness in the fight against corruption. Overall, limited progress was made in the reporting period, including last year’s recommendations. Steps have been taken with the aim of further implementing the recommendations of the Group of States for the fight against corruption of the Council of Europe (GRECO) in the field of corruption prevention. A slight increase in the number of new investigations and final verdicts in high-level corruption cases was recorded, but the number of new indictments decreased. There were no cases of final confiscation of property, for which results are necessary. Serbia has yet to adopt a national strategy for the fight against corruption and an accompanying action plan. Serbia presented the draft strategy for the period 2021-2028 to the European Commission and the first action plan for the period 2023-2024.

The documents include most of the transitional measures for Chapter 23 related to the fight against corruption and most of the GRECO recommendations from the 4th and 5th evaluation cycles. However, there is still a need to ensure the inclusion of the remaining transitional measures of Chapter 23 and the unfulfilled GRECO recommendations and to create the necessary conditions for implementation. Serbia needs to establish an effective coordination mechanism in order to operationalize the objectives of the policy of prevention and repression and thoroughly deal with corruption. Those sectors that are most susceptible to corruption require dedicated action. Overall, corruption is widespread in many areas and remains an issue of concern. There is a need for strong political will to effectively address the issue of corruption and for a strong criminal justice response to high-level corruption.

In the fight against organized crime, Serbia is at a certain level of preparedness. Limited progress has been made in fulfilling last year’s recommendations, especially on the issue of finding and preventing migrant smuggling and human trafficking. The year 2022 also saw a slight increase in the number of financial investigations and asset confiscations. The total number of new investigations and indictments increased, but the number of first-instance and final judgments decreased (especially in cases of money laundering). Extended confiscation is not yet systematically applied. Proactive criminal investigations and systematic monitoring of money flows, especially in cases of unexplained wealth, are still not common practice.

However, the level of understanding and approach to investigation has improved, and the police, prosecutors and criminal judges are aware of the importance of consistently applying the “follow the money to crime” approach and the use of circumstantial evidence. Serbia is late in implementing the analysis of the role and practice of the security services and the National Security Council in conducting criminal investigations related to serious and organized crime, although preparatory work has begun. There is well-established cooperation with CEPOL, Eurojust, Europol and INTERPOL, especially in the area of ​​arms and drug trafficking and the fight against high-profile organized crime groups. Serbia needs to further increase the technical, financial and personnel capacities of the Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime in order to perform its duties in an independent manner (including premises for accommodating new personnel). Serbia needs to change the current approach, based on individual cases, towards a strategic approach directed against criminal organizations. Serbia should also focus, instead of on cases of low or medium importance, on cases of high level of importance with the aim of breaking up large and internationally active organizations and confiscating assets.

The legislative and institutional framework for respecting fundamental rights is largely established. The Protector of Citizens was re-elected in April 2023, without support among the parties. The Office of the Ombudsman has yet to be provided with additional resources to cover the new powers envisaged by the 2021 Law on the Ombudsman. The recruitment of additional staff for the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Protection of Personal Data is significantly delayed. It is necessary to additionally regulate the procedure for the execution of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, including the role of the representative of the Government of Serbia before the court.

The implementation of new strategies and action plans on gender equality, anti-discrimination and Roma inclusion has begun, although monitoring bodies did not exist during most of the reporting period due to the election and formation of a new government. Action plans and related funding related to violence against women and deinstitutionalization are significantly delayed. The new councils of national minorities were constituted after the elections held in November 2022. Serbia continued the development and consultations on the new “action plan for the realization of the rights of national minorities”.

In terms of freedom of expression, limited progress was made in the reporting period. The police and the prosecutor’s office responded quickly to several cases of attacks and threats, working with the permanent working group for the safety of journalists. However, incidents of threats, intimidation, hate speech and violence against journalists remain a cause for concern, as does the rise of strategic anti-public participation (SLAPP) lawsuits, particularly by members of national and local governments, which can have a chilling effect including self-censorship. Frequent statements by high-ranking officials about the daily and investigative work of journalists create a challenging environment for exercising freedom of expression. The ability of journalists to report on ongoing criminal proceedings is too limited within the legal framework.

Serbia continued to implement the media strategy action plan. After increasing delays, several processes were restarted after the formation of a new government in October 2022. Consultations continued in November 2022 on amendments to the Law on Public Information and Media. After public consultations, consultations with media associations and hurried consultations with the European Commission, amendments to the laws on public information and media and on electronic media were adopted before the dissolution of parliament in October 2023. Overall, the new laws will strengthen the independence of the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (REM). They also codify the role of the Press Council and make the process of public co-financing more transparent and accessible. In the context of the elections, the ban on media coverage of officials who are also candidates participating in official gatherings organized for the opening of infrastructure or other facilities was extended to 30 days, which is an improvement on the current situation. However, the legislative process has not been completed in full compliance with the acquis and European standards.

In terms of economic criteria, Serbia is at a good level of preparedness and has achieved some progress in developing a functional market economy. After a strong recovery in 2021 from the drop caused by Covid-19, the Serbian economy slowed down significantly in 2022 under the influence of the economic consequences of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, especially in terms of rising inflation through rising energy and food prices. Consumer price inflation rose in 2022 and continued to rise in early 2023, prompting the central bank to steadily tighten its policy. Progress has also been made in adopting new fiscal rules. The stability of the banking sector has been preserved, and credit growth has slowed significantly. High inflation helped to improve the budget balance in 2022, despite significant capital transfers to state-owned energy companies and further ad hoc support measures. The main structural reforms of public administration and management of state-owned enterprises continued to progress slowly. The state retains a strong role in the economy; the private sector is underdeveloped and constrained by weaknesses in the rule of law, especially corruption and inefficiency of the judiciary, and the implementation of the rules of fair market competition.

Serbia has made some progress and is moderately prepared to deal with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. The structure of the economy was further improved and economic integration with the EU remained at a high level. However, the quality and relevance of education and training still do not fully meet the needs of the labor market. Public investment remained at a high level with the aim of reducing serious infrastructural gaps after years of underinvestment. Small and medium-sized enterprises continue to face a number of challenges, including unequal business conditions compared to large companies and foreign investors.

When it comes to good neighborly relations and regional cooperation, Serbia as a whole has remained committed to good bilateral relations with other candidate countries, potential candidates and neighboring EU member states.

The European Commission observes that Serbia remained involved in dialogue with so-called Kosovo, but needs to show more serious commitment, make more efforts and make compromises so that the process of normalizing relations moves forward. Serbia should maintain its commitments from the dialogue and commit to the full implementation of all previous agreements from the dialogue and the Agreement on the path to normalization and the Annex on its implementation. In this respect, both Serbia and Kosovo are expected to engage more constructively in order to facilitate the start of negotiations on a comprehensive legally binding agreement on normalization and show flexibility in order to make quick and concrete progress. The normalization of relations is an essential condition on the European path for both sides, and both risk losing important opportunities in the absence of progress.

Regarding the ability to undertake the obligations arising from membership, the country continued to work on the harmonization of legislation with the EU acquis in several areas.

The cluster on the internal market is crucial for Serbia’s preparations to meet the requirements of the EU internal market and is extremely important for the possible early integration and development of the Common Regional Market. Progress is limited in most areas in this cluster while no progress was recorded in the area of ​​free movement of capital.

The cluster on competitiveness and inclusive growth has significant connections with the Program of Economic Reforms of Serbia and is technically ready for opening. Serbia continued to achieve progress in all areas within this cluster, especially through further harmonization of legislation with the acquis of the EU as well as with the new law on the management of state-owned enterprises.

Regarding the cluster on external relations, Serbia has yet to complete its accession to the World Trade Organization, which is one of the criteria for opening Chapter 30. Serbia should also refrain from introducing unilateral trade restrictive measures without first consulting the Commission, in line with its obligations from the Stabilization and Association Agreement. Serbia still does not comply with the restrictive measures of the EU against Russia and most of the Declarations of the High Representative on behalf of the EU on this issue. The rate of compliance of Serbia with the relevant declarations of the High Representative on behalf of the EU and the decisions of the Council was 46% in 2022 and 51% in August 2023. A certain number of actions and statements of Serbia contradicted the foreign policy positions of the EU. Serbia is expected, as a priority, to improve its compliance with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, including EU restrictive measures, and to refrain from actions that contradict EU foreign policy positions.

To conclude, in 2023, Serbia failed to regain its previous level of progress on an annual basis. Compared to the previous year, progress was slower in 11 chapters, and faster in 9 chapters. Within Chapter 23, progress in the fight against corruption has been reduced, and in the area of ​​freedom of expression, even the smallest (limited) progress has been made.

According to the EC assessment, the biggest jump in progress was achieved in the area of ​​public procurement (from 1 to 3), while the overall level of readiness for membership increased slightly only in Chapter 17 (from 3 to 3.5). In Chapter 31, in which the European Commission noted a setback last year, was no progress. The Commission reiterated the recommendation for the opening of Cluster 3 (Competitiveness and inclusive growth), since Serbia met the technical prerequisites. However, for this it is necessary to obtain the consent of all member states in the EU Council, which this winter seems unlikely.


The European Commission has been publishing annual reports evaluating the progress achieved by the candidate countries with respect to the Copenhagen criteria since 1998. These reports were called “Progress Report” until 2016, and have been called “Country Report” afterwards. One of the Republic of Serbia most important goals in foreign policy has been determined as membership to the European Union, and several governments have carried out activities in various dimensions in line with this policy for many years. The activities carried out by Serbia in the EU membership process are closely monitored by the EU and regularly reported. While evaluating the breakthroughs Serbia has made, it is also possible to determine how the EU perceive its efforts.

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