Had it not been for the latest protests, the President of Serbia would not have realised how angry and concerned citizens are about the expropriation law, and the controversial expropriation law would already have been implemented.
In the end, regardless of the nature of the protests, Aleksandar Vučić refrained from signing the decree promulgating the law.
He announced that leading experts and non-governmental organisations would be included in a comprehensive public debate, which could then last up to six months, to be finished immediately after the elections. Such a denouement, Miodrag Jovanovic, a professor at the Faculty of Law in Belgrade, says was preceded by a lot of confusion that begins on the Serbian parliament’s website, where the law is neither listed in “approved laws” nor in “laws in procedure” section.
“This is a completely abnormal situation. It shows that the Parliament, which according to the Constitution is the supreme body in this country, is being played with and in a way, it symbolically makes it clear where this law is in a political sense, neither here nor there. Further confusion has been fuelled by the contradictory and ambiguous statements of the President of Serbia, but the only concrete thing he can do according to the Constitution is not to sign the law and return it to the Parliament for a further debate, or not to sign it within the deadline by which the law would then be sent back to the Parliament Speaker. It is obvious that the President of Serbia has decided for the first option, which means that the law will be sent back to the Parliament for a new vote, and there is every chance that it will not be voted in favour of again because the absolute majority, at least 126 deputies, will definitely do as the party leader tells them”, Professor Jovanović explains, confirming that the controversial law has direct links with the Rio Tinto project.
He underlines that it is quite plausible to think that the President believes he does not need the mass upheaval before the elections.
“If they (SNS) win a majority again in the elections, then they will probably have a much stronger argument to say that this was part of their programme, the people voted for them and they will therefore continue their work. Until then, a public hearing can only be a way of postponing the decision, but the question is what exactly does a public hearing mean. Some of my peers from the Faculty of Mining, who worked on a report for Rio Tinto, asked me if they could present information that does not classify as a trade secret. This was discussed at a meeting organised by the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU), attended by the most eminent experts. So, such meetings did take place, but the state-controlled media, i.e. the public broadcaster, did not talk or report about it and did not broadcast debates on state television considering that this is a serious topic for the country,” says Professor Jovanović.
Retired Constitutional Court judge Mirjana Rašić points out that nobody can say with certainty that the withdrawal of the law will change Rio Tinto’s plans because it is not public knowledge what kind of agreement has been signed with that company and who signed it.
“This law is contrary to the democratic legal system. It is not only important that short deadlines were given for the final decision on expropriation, something so obvious that the President did not even have to refer to it. I am particularly concerned about the stipulation in the law that regulates what constitutes ‘public interest’. That’s my main worry. The government decides what is ‘public interest’ and this stipulation can be found in certain interstate agreements for which we do not know who the beneficiaries are. When the expropriation proceedings are initiated, the owner of the property has no right to participate in the procedure of determining the public interest and has no right to claim that the public interest has been violated. He is faced with a fait accompli,” says judge Rašić and adds that such practice was implemented during the Belgrade Waterfront project, while earlier, according to the laws from the 1990s, there was no way that private investment would be declared of public interest, regardless how important that investment was.
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