EP's Bilčík: Serbia standing still, but EU has to be more active too

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Source: N1

The European Parliament's Standing Rapporteur MEP Vladimír Bilčík said on Thursday that Serbia had been "standing still for the last past months and that the European Commission latest report on the country should not serve as a document for Members of the EP, but as a document, the EP USES and a discussion with our partners in Serbia."

The Report serves not only as a reflection of the past two years but more as a constructive and forward-looking document.. I would like to look at how to best support the work ahead of Serbia,“ Bilčík said.

He reiterated that „the main work is on the shoulders of our partners in Serbia; political decisions on moving toward the EU (or away from it) is made in Serbia, in Belgrade, in the countryside, in the cities and villages…“

However, Bilčík added that „as we expect more from Serbia, we must also expect more from ourselves. This year has highlighted that the European perspective is not a given. Other external actors, Russia and China, are taking every opportunity to increase their leverage on the region and in Serbia.
Regarding Belgarde, Bilčík said the Report revolves around 4 „Rs“:

Recovery: the most imminent task ahead is the manage the fallout caused by the pandemic. Recovery should be done in a way that brings us closer – whether via truthful communication on how the EU has provided assistance to Serbia, on European solutions for this crisis and the „opening“ of Europe and, of course, vaccine distribution.

Reforms in Rule of Law: Serbia’s new government has a clear, majority mandate and should be clear about what it is going to do with this unprecedented support. The political crisis of 2019/2020 is still not over.

Rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms also means moving forward on improving media freedom and freedom of expression. I follow closely all the news from media organisations in Serbia and we remain concerned with reports of violence and threats against journalists…

Regional cooperation and Reconciliation…“

He added that „finally, EU accession must be a strategic choice of Serbia. This has to be clear from the onset, and Serbia’s political decisions must be in line with this strategic choice: here, there is a lot of room for improvement. The pandemic has shown that a health crisis of this proportion is also a geopolitical issue.“

2020 was foreseen to be a decisive and promising year for Enlargement – and it wasn’t. In Serbia, 2020 has also been a very exceptional year; obviously, due to the pandemic, but also due to the fact that it was an electoral year. Valuable time has been lost.

As we expect more from Serbia, we must also expect more from ourselves. This year has highlighted that the European perspective is not a given. Other external actors, Russia and China, are taking every opportunity to increase their leverage on the region and in Serbia.

We must, therefore, use the tools of Enlargement to the fullest potential and in a more strategic way. I believe that the Council should be ready to open additional negotiating chapters with Serbia. Opening of chapters is a beginning of a long negotiating process on delivery and benchmarks but could be a political game-changer on the Western Balkans when it comes to facing the challenge of geopolitical competition and our fight for reforms.“

The whole statement reads as follows:

Statement of European Parliament’s Standing Rapporteur MEP Vladimír Bilčík following the presentation of the Report on the 2019-2020 Commission Reports on Serbia

10 December 2020

“The Report serves not only as a reflection of the past two years, but more as a constructive and forward-looking document. Serbia has been standing still for the past months, as indicated by the European Commission’s Report, but I would like to look at how to best support the work ahead of Serbia. In this context, this Report should not serve as a document for Members of the European Parliament, but should be a document the European Parliament USES and a discussion with our partners in Serbia. The main work is on the shoulders of our partners in Serbia; political decisions on moving toward the EU (or away from it) is made in Serbia, in Belgrade, in the countryside, in the cities and villages.

The Report revolves around 4 „Rs“:

Recovery: the most imminent task ahead is the manage the fallout caused by the pandemic. Recovery should be done in a way that brings us closer – whether via truthful communication on how the EU has provided assistance to Serbia, on European solutions for this crisis and the „opening“ of Europe and, of course, vaccine distribution.

Reforms in Rule of Law: Serbia’s new government has a clear, majority mandate and should be clear about what it is going to do with this unprecedented support. The political crisis of 2019/2020 is still not over. The next elections in 2022 must assure fair conditions for all and have to take place in an improved electoral framework, as rightly pointed out by the OSCE/ODIHR. The time to work on the recommendations is now, well in advance. In this context, we are ready to resume the Inter-Party Dialogue with Skupština as soon as possible. Serbian democratic institutions should use all the tools available to improve their functioning and should reach out to European or international assistance in order to move forward.

I appreciate that the new government has adopted the proposal for constitutional amendments and submitted it to the National Assembly. As we all know how difficult it is to change Serbian constitution – we need as comprehensive change as possible with a view to Serbia’s EU accession.

Rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms also means moving forward on improving media freedom and freedom of expression. I follow closely all the news from media organisations in Serbia and we remain concerned with reports of violence and threats against journalists. The most prominent case was that of Ana Lalić form Vojvodina highlighted by the Commission earlier this year. It is encouraging that new Minister of Culture Maja Gojković has withdrawn all requests for initiating court proceedings against media and journalists and public notices against particular media. The Action Plan for implementation of the Media strategy was adopted on 3 December. We need more, and we look forward to action directed at protecting diverse and free media environment.

Regional cooperation and Reconciliation: this is very important not only for Serbia, but for the entire region. Reconciliation is about dealing with the past and also looking into the future. And while Serbia has been continuously – and constructively – engaged in the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is a priority and a precondition for EU accession. The Dialogue must continue and must bring about tangible results.

And finally, EU accession must be a strategic choice of Serbia. This has to be clear from the onset and Serbia’s political decisions must be in line with this strategic choice: here, there is a lot of room for improvement. The pandemic has shown that a health crisis of this proportion is also a geopolitical issue.

2020 was foreseen to be a decisive and promising year for Enlargement – and it wasn’t. In Serbia, 2020 has also been a very exceptional year; obviously, due to the pandemic, but also due to the fact that it was an electoral year. Valuable time has been lost.

As we expect more from Serbia, we must also expect more from ourselves. This year has highlighted that European perspective is not a given. Other external actors, Russia and China, are taking every opportunity to increase their leverage on the region and in Serbia.

We must therefore use the tools of enlargement to the fullest potential and in a more strategic way. I believe that the Council should be ready to open additional negotiating chapters with Serbia. Opening of chapters is a beginning of a long negotiating process on delivery and benchmarks but could be a political game changer on the Western Balkans when it comes to facing the challenge of geopolitical competition and our fight for reforms.“