Serbian government receives EC rule of law non-paper

NEWS 17.05.2022 13:58
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Source: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

The European Commission’s non-paper on rule of law said that Serbia should not close any chapters in the pre-accession talks with the European Union before meeting benchmarks for chapters 23 and 24.

According to the Rule of Law non-paper regarding chapters 23 and 24 for Serbia, the priority for further overall progress in the accession negotiations is the fulfilment of the interim benchmarks under chapters 23 and 24. “As foreseen by the revised methodology, no further chapters should be closed before Serbia achieves this objective,” it said.

N1 had access to the non-paper which was handed to the Serbian government on Tuesday.

“Serbia made an important step on the independence and accountability of the judiciary, with the approval of relevant amendments to the Constitution. In a number of areas, however, delays relative to the chapter action plans remain. In other areas, action plans still need to be drafted and/or adopted in order to give effect to new strategies. Further work and political commitment is needed to deepen reforms and address shortcomings, in particular in the key areas of the judiciary, fight against corruption and organised crime, media freedom, and the domestic handling of war crimes,” it said.

It warned that significant challenges and delays in implementation remain regarding the impartiality, accountability, efficiency and professionalism of the judiciary, access to justice and high-quality training, including a revision of the system of recruitment, transfer and promotion of judges and prosecutors to ensure that careers are fully based on merit. “A number of steps have been taken to reduce the space for political influence on the judiciary, however there are numerous instances where this continues to be problematic.” the non-paper said.

It recalled that a new Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes for 2021-2026 was adopted but said that a number of Serbian political parties and figures, including at Ministerial level, continued to provide support to and public space for convicted war criminals.

Serbia introduced changes to improve its track record in fighting corruption and there is a slight increase in the number of indictments and final convictions for high-level corruption cases but no cases of final confiscation of assets. “Serbia has yet to adopt a new overarching anti-corruption strategy underpinned by a credible and realistic action plan as well as an effective coordination mechanism.” it added.

The non-paper said that cases of threats and violence against journalists remain a concern and the overall environment for the exercise of freedom of expression without hindrance still needs to be further strengthened in practice. The implementation of the national media strategy experienced increasing delays as did amendments to the law on public information and media and to the law on electronic media which are needed in order to establish transparent and equitable co-funding for media content serving the public interest, and to increase transparency in media ownership and advertising.

The administrative capacity of the Prosecutor’s Office for Organised Crime was increased but no progress towards amending the Serbian criminal code in order to effectively criminalise the trafficking of weapons. Serbia has introduced changes to improve the measurement of the track record of investigation, prosecution, and convictions in serious and organised crime cases, including cases of money laundering, based on systematic tracking of money flows and on the efficient use of special investigative measures to collect evidence. “The data provided by Serbia shows a mixed picture, and proactive criminal investigations and systematic tracking of money flows, especially in cases of inexplicable wealth, is not common practice. However, the understanding and investigation approach has improved,” it said.

It said that Serbia has not yet conducted an analysis of the roles and practices of security services as well as of the National Security Council in carrying out criminal investigations related to serious and organised crime, which is needed to clearly separate the mandates and regulations concerning the interception of communications for criminal investigation and for security purposes. There is well-established cooperation with Interpol and a continuously increasing use of the secure communication channel SIENA. Cooperation with Europol is very good, notably in weapons trafficking, drugs trafficking, and the fight against organised crime groups.

Serbia needs to adopt a new national strategy for prevention and fight against terrorism because the previous strategy expired in 2021 to cover all forms of radicalisation and violent extremism (irrespective of political, religious or ethno-nationalist root causes) including connections between right wing extremism and hooliganism, in line with EU policies.

Serbia’s visa policy is only partially in line with the EU list of third countries whose nationals are visa exempt or visa required, and no steps were taken to address this. Serbia continued to satisfactorily implement the EU-Serbia readmission agreement and to effectively carry out border control and surveillance. Efforts in detecting and preventing smuggling of migrants also continued, the non-paper said.