Success in the European integration process cannot today be measured on the basis of major strides towards membership, or the opening of clusters that’s incomprehensible to citizens. The time has come for us to get back to the basics of European integration, and the most important reason we embarked on the “European path”. The reason are the benefits and improvements for our people according to the benchmarks of European regulations and standards
The circumstances, and therefore also the challenges in which the European integration process unfolds in Serbia and around our entire region, have never been more demanding and complex over the past few decades. The reason lies least of all in the change to the methodology of membership negotiations. There are few generations that have witnessed major and historic changes during their lifetime. Since the end of the Cold War, when we were silent observers, our generation is now on route to witnessing another change of epochal proportions. This time around, we have an opportunity to contribute to navigating such changes as painlessly as possible.
Changes to the economic, social and security map of Europe impact on the goals that we set being more realistic, and even more existential. We find ourselves at the end of a year in which energy security will not be assessed purely on the basis of success in the costly diversification of sources of energy supplies, but rather by securing primary energy sources to enable the functioning of our economy and the satisfying of the basic needs of our citizens. And the European integration process is no exception either. Success in the European integration process cannot today be measured on the basis of major strides towards membership, or the opening of clusters that’s incomprehensible to citizens. The time has come for us to get back to the basics of European integration, and the most important reason we embarked on the “European path”. The reason are the benefits and improvements for our people according to the benchmarks of European regulations and standards.
What is most important to us?
First and foremost, advancing the rule of law. This is a priority of this government and it is our task to achieve all the benchmarks of the accession process as soon as possible, primarily in order for our citizens to see that implementing planned reforms secures a significantly higher level of legal security for all of us, as well as greater trust in public institutions. On the other hand, it is also important for our European partners to see the decisiveness of all branches of government for Serbia to be more functional and stable.
In cooperation with the Venice Commission, work has continued on the drafting of judicial and prosecutorial laws that are expected to be adopted at the beginning of next year, in accordance with the deadlines stipulated by amendments to the Constitution. The autonomy of the judiciary and the independence of the public prosecution will this be strengthened. These changes, according to which the selecting of judges and prosecutors will no longer be under the jurisdiction of the National Assembly, but rather will be the responsibility of the High Council of the Judiciary and the High Council of the Prosecution, will further contribute to justice being more accessible to all citizens of Serbia, and thus also contribute to improving the standing of judicial professions in society.
These changes to the judicial system will impact on more effectively combatting corruption. The next important document that we are starting work on is the drafting of the new Strategy for the fight against corruption, which will be adopted during the first half of next year.
The most important factor for the third important issue in this area, freedom of the media, is certainly the continuation of work on amendments to the Law on Public Information and Media and the Law on Electronic Media. These regulations should secure a favourable environment for freedom to access information, the flow of ideas and opinions, and the realising of the public interest, which will lead to an orderly and rich media market. Likewise, it will also result in the implementation of more transparent and fairer co-financing of media content in the public interest, as well as increasing transparency in media ownership and advertising, while strengthening the independence of the media regulator.
In terms of visa liberalisation, work will continue on further alignment with the EU’s lists of third countries that require a visa, particularly those deemed as posing a risk of irregular migration, for the sake of the security of the EU, but above all for the security of Serbia. In parallel with that, we will work on an important segment of strengthening regional cooperation in the struggle to combat migrant trafficking.
We are especially grateful to the European Union that it managed to find a way – even under the conditions of a serious energy crisis across Europe, and in addition to regular support for the implementation of reforms in the domain of energy – to also approve an additional urgent budget aid grant amounting to 165 million euros. We will use that money to mitigate the negative consequences of the crisis on citizens and the economy, particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises
When it comes to financial support from the EU, we are especially grateful to the European Union that it managed to find a way – even under the conditions of a serious energy crisis across Europe, and in addition to regular support for the implementation of reforms in the domain of energy – to also approve an additional urgent budget aid grant amounting to 165 million euros. We will use that money to mitigate the negative consequences of the crisis on citizens and the economy, particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises.
We also had an opportunity to hear the willingness of the EU to designate additional funds of 500 million euros for the implementation of priority infrastructure projects in the region, and we expect with great optimism that decisions will be made as early as the Summit of Heads of State and Government in early December enabling us to start implementing projects that we’ve prepared to finance with EU grants.
For the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, a decision was made back in August to provide grants amounting to more than 220 million euros to ensure the implementation of projects in the areas of transport, energy and digital connectivity, as well to improve healthcare infrastructure. We expect new decisions to be brought by the end of this year that actually mean that we will further develop our roads, energy and environmental facilities, which are of huge importance to our sustainable development and connectivity with our neighbours.
This is also an opportunity for me to mention another important segment of the accession process, and that is the segment represented by cross-border and transnational cooperation programmes, which Serbia also participates in under the multiannual financial framework 2021- 2027. These ten cooperation programmes with neighbours Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia are supplemented by transnational cooperation programmes for the Adriatic-Ionian and Danube regions, as well as the interregional cooperation programme among cities (URBACT). Through all these programmes, over the course of the next seven years, users from Serbia and the other participating countries will have at their disposal almost 400 million euros – these funds will be used to connect people, work together on development and thus improve understanding and coexistence.
In order for us to observe the scope of the results of these programmes, I will remind you that 1,366 projects with a total value of over 400 million euros have been implemented to date, which included the participation of as many as 1,660 institutions and organisations from local communities in Serbia. That’s how, for example, we reached a total of 878 kilometres of constructed or modernised roads, pedestrian walkways or cycle lanes, financed more than 180,000 units of various equipment that’s used, among others, in hospitals, schools, museums etc. More than 67,000 people have received training for various additional skills, while more than 220 facilities have been reconstructed or constructed in local communities on both sides of the border. What is important to us is that the European Commission has approved almost all programmes for the next stage, some of which have already started being implemented, and the first public calls to submit project proposals are currently underway for Romania- Serbia programmes and the transnational programme for the Danube region.
These actually represent just a selection of the elements confirming that European Union accession is a process that has many aspects that are important to the daily life of citizens, which is why it’s particularly important for us to improve communication on the significance and benefits of Serbia’s EU membership. Civil society, and all citizens of Serbia, have an open invitation to help us in this task, in order for everyone to better understand what the European integration process actually means.