The European Commission said on Wednesday that Serbia had made limited or no progress in key areas on its path to the European Union.
The section of the Commission’s progress report on the Serbian elections said that “fundamental freedoms were respected but voter choice was limited by the governing party’s overwhelming advantage and the promotion of government policies by most major media outlets, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR)”.
The report said that a number of ODIHR recommendations were not implemented, adding that the Serbian authorities should address long-standing electoral shortcomings through a transparent and inclusive dialogue with political parties and other relevant stakeholders well ahead of the next elections. “The newly constituted Serbian parliament is marked by the overwhelming majority of the ruling coalition and the absence of a viable opposition, a situation which is not conducive to political pluralism in the country”, it said.
It said that Serbia is moderately prepared in the area of public administration reform. “No progress was made overall as the excessive number of acting senior manager positions was not sizeably reduced. Lack of transparency and respect of the merit-based recruitment procedure for senior civil service positions is an issue of increasingly serious concern”, it said. Serbia’s judicial system has some level of preparation. No progress was made over the reporting period, the report said.
“Serbia has some level of preparation in the fight against corruption. Limited progress was made over the reporting period,” the report said.
“In the fight against organized crime, Serbia has some level of preparation with limited progress over the reporting period related notably to structural reforms and interagency cooperation. … Overall, Serbia has yet to establish a convincing track record of effective investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in serious and organized crime cases, leading to an increased amount of confiscated assets.
Serbia needs to increase its efforts in dismantling large and internationally active criminal organizations”, the report added. “The legislative and institutional framework for upholding fundamental rights is broadly in place. However, its consistent and efficient implementation still needs to be ensured. Human rights institutions need to be strengthened and their independence guaranteed, including via the allocation of the necessary financial and human resources”, the EC said.
It recalled that the government adopted a new media strategy, which identifies the main media freedom challenges, but its implementation has not yet started and no progress was made yet on the ground to improve the overall environment for freedom of expression.
It expressed concern over the continuing threats, intimidation and violence against journalists and the failure to establish transparency of media ownership and of allocation of public funds, especially at local level. Serbia continued to significantly contribute to the management of the mixed migration flows towards the EU by playing an active and constructive role and cooperating effectively with its neighbors and EU Member States. It also continued to effectively implement the integrated border management strategy and its action plan.
“On the economic criteria, Serbia made some progress and is moderately prepared/at a good level of preparation in developing a functioning market economy. … By reducing the budgetary deficit and maintaining a prudent fiscal stance, Serbia has significantly improved debt sustainability. Labour market performance has improved, with the lowest unemployment rates in the last decade; however, this was also due to large-scale emigration”, it said. Serbia made some progress and is moderately prepared to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. Serbia overall remained committed to bilateral relations with other enlargement countries and neighboring EU Member States and an active participant in regional cooperation.
Regarding the normalization of relations with Kosovo, Serbia needs to make further substantial efforts and contribute to reaching a comprehensive legally binding agreement with Kosovo.
As regards its ability to assume the obligations of membership, Serbia stepped up its work to align legislation with the EU acquis in the economic and internal market chapters. The country made good progress in economic areas such as company law, intellectual property law, competition and financial services. However, limited progress was made on public procurement.
Serbia continued to develop intense relations and strategic partnerships with a number of countries worldwide, including Russia, China and the US. Cooperation with China increased during the COVID-19 crisis and was marked by pro-China and EU skeptical rhetoric by high-ranking state officials, the report said and added that Serbia aligned with 60% of the EU CFSP positions in 2019 and needs to step up its efforts in order to progressively align its foreign and security policy with that of the European Union in the period up to accession.