In its latest report about Serbia, released on 8th November, the European Commission warns of the country being a deeply polarized society, especially following the tragic mass shootings in early May.
“Debates in Parliament were marked by tensions between the ruling majority coalition and the opposition. The Parliament has no annual work plan and most of its sessions were called with the minimum advance notice of 24 hours, which should only be used in exceptional circumstances. The code of conduct was not systematically applied, and the frequent use of inflammatory language was not penalised. Sanctions and fines were only issued to opposition MPs. Parliamentary Rules of Procedure need to be modernised, and the code of conduct applied to address offences by Members of Parliament”, the report says.
As for judicial reform and the current situation in the Serbian judiciary, the report notes that “some progress was made during the reporting period. Serbia took an important step towards strengthening the independence and accountability of the judiciary with the timely adoption of most of the implementing legislation giving practical effect to the 2022 constitutional amendments, while two of the implementing laws still need to be adopted: the Law on Judicial Academy and the Law on Seats and Territorial Jurisdiction of Courts.”
In terms of the fight against corruption, Serbia has made some, albeit limited progress. The report states that “steps have been taken that aimed at further implementing the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in the area of prevention of corruption. There was a slight increase in the number of new investigations and final convictions in high-level corruption cases, but the number of new indictments fell.”
Limited progress was made in terms of freedom of expression too. The report said that the police and prosecution reacted swiftly to several cases of attacks and threats, working with the standing working group on the safety of journalists. “However, cases of threats, intimidation, hate speech and violence against journalists remain a concern, as is the increase of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), notably launched by members of national and local authorities, that may produce a chilling effect including self-censorship,” it added.
“Serbia is at a good level of preparation and has made some progress in developing a functioning market economy,” the report said adding that the state retains a strong footprint in the economy with a private sector underdeveloped and hampered by weaknesses in the rule of law, in particular corruption and judicial inefficiency, and in the enforcement of fair competition. Serbia is moderately prepared and has made some progress in coping with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU, the report said.
“On good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation, Serbia remained committed overall to maintaining good bilateral relations with other candidate countries, potential candidates and neighbouring EU Member States. Relations with Croatia improved. Relations with Hungary have further intensified. In general, Serbia actively participates in regional cooperation,” the progress report said.
“Serbia should also abstain from introducing unilateral trade-restrictive measures without prior consultation of the Commission, in line with its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Serbia continued not to align with EU restrictive measures against Russia and the majority of declarations by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on this matter,” the report added.
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