Both the eu and membership candidate countries need to change their approach. Candidates need to work faster and more decisively, and the eu needs to provide support, as was the case with the countries of eastern and central europe.
The European Commission’s country report is the most valid instrument to verify everything that a country has done on the path to European integration, an an indicator of whether a gap exists (and how wide it is) between a declarative commitment to EU membership and the actual performance in meeting the membership criteria. That report should not be interpreted at all. It should be read as it is written literally and consistently. At the National Convention we carefully read the latest Report and compare it with the evaluations and recommendations that were provided by civil society in the Book of Recommendations six months ago. So, the European Commission isn’t the only body that sees things in Serbia in a certain way. The obstacles and consequences of the action and inaction of the Government are also visible to both experts and citizens of Serbia.
There has been no progress on half of chapters in the observed period, with only partial progress achieved in agriculture, for example, although Serbia has withdrawn only seven million of the 175 million euros from the IPARD programme. For us at the Convention, that is not progress. Then there are the chapters that cover the areas of transport, tax, economic, monetary and industrial policy, while some progress compared to previous years has been noted in chapters 24, 30 and 31.
The Convention agrees with the assessment of the European Commission in this regard, as well as its assessment of progress on Chapter 8 – Competition Policy. Chapters 25 and 26 have been closed temporarily, but the members of the Convention see education and science as crucial in a number of policies where little or no progress has been made. We agree with the European Union that there has been no progress on the chapters covering public procurement, the judiciary, the rule of law and environmental protection. Political criteria also remain at an unsatisfactory level: from electoral conditions, freedom of speech and freedom of the media, to relations with civil society organisations, the position of the National Assembly or the treatment of independent and regulatory bodies and authorities. Serbia’s administrative capacity is increasingly weakening and this is a concern for both the European Commission and civil society.
The rule of law certainly remains the biggest problem for Serbia, with very negative assessments of the state of democracy, which also come from other sources and not only from the European Commission or civil society organisations from Serbia. As these are preconditions for progress on any other chapter and any policy, Serbia has not opened a single chapter this year. However, the same problem exists in Montenegro, yet it still opened chapters. Thus, Chapter 35 still dominates in the case of Serbia. Unfortunately, it remains the chapter of all chapters.
The European Union has adopted its EU Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans until 2025. That remains a valid document and an opportunity to carry out the necessary reforms, albeit under the much more difficult circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year was an election year in Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro. We hope that the new governments will be more decisive in establishing the rule of law and respecting the principles of democracy. This will also be a condition for the use of funds from the new EU investment plan for the Western Balkans, which accompanies this Report.
Progress will be monitored according to new methodology. Although very uncertain times are ahead of us and it is difficult to predict anything, one thing is certain: both the EU and membership candidate countries must change their approach. Candidates must work faster and more decisively, and the EU must provide the kind of support it did in the case of the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Otherwise the prospects of membership become more uncertain than ever.