The meeting was chaired by Jadranka Joksimović, Minister without portfolio for EU integration of Serbia. Miroslav Lajčák, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, led the European Union delegation (on behalf of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini). Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations and European Neighbourhood Policy, represented the European Commission.
The SA Council meeting provided a timely opportunity to review Serbia’s progress in its preparations for accession and to consider priorities for further work within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
The SA Council welcomed the major steps Serbia had taken since its last meeting, with the adoption of its action plans for rule of law chapters 23 and 24 as well as progress in the EU‑facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, including a commitment to regional cooperation, which allowed the opening of the first negotiating chapters.
The SA Council welcomed the opening of chapters 32 (Financial control) and 35 (Other issues: Item 1 – Normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo*) on 14 December 2015, chapters 23 (Judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (Justice, freedom and security) on 18 July 2016, as well as the opening of chapter 5 (Public procurement) and the opening and provisional closure of chapter 25 (Science and research) on 13 December 2016.
The SA Council encouraged Serbia to use the existing momentum to intensify reform efforts and to focus on the effective implementation of reforms in the areas of rule of law, fundamental rights, democratic institutions, public administration, as well as in developing a functioning market economy and improving the business environment. The SA Council stressed the importance for Serbia to meet in a timely manner the commitments taken in its action plans for chapters 23 and 24.
The SA Council took note of the holding of the elections in Serbia on 24 April 2016 and looked forward to continued work towards Serbia’s strategic goal of EU membership under the new government. The SA Council noted that, according to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the election process offered voters a variety of choices and was conducted in full respect of fundamental freedoms. The SA Council expressed its expectation for Serbia to address all OSCE/ODIHR recommendations.
As regards the EU-facilitated dialogue, the SA Council welcomed the recent agreements on the implementation of freedom of movement and telecoms. The SA Council noted that progress in the EU-facilitated Dialogue, in particular in implementing the August 2015 agreements, had been slow in the first half of 2016. It called on Serbia to swiftly implement in good faith its part of all past agreements, in particular on energy, and to engage constructively with Kosovo in formulating and implementing future agreements.
The SA Council underlined that, in accordance with the negotiating framework, Serbia needs to progressively align with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy in the period up to accession. The SA Council welcomed Serbia’s contribution to the Common Security and Defence Policy and noted first steps undertaken in the process of renewal of its strategic documents in the field of security and defence.
The SA Council commended Serbia for its efforts and constructive cooperation in addressing the migration crisis. It also recalled the importance of cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
The SA Council recalled that regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations were essential elements of the Enlargement Process and the Stabilisation and Association Process. The SA Council noted with satisfaction Serbia’s increasingly constructive engagement in regional cooperation initiatives and encouraged Serbia to continue strengthening good neighbourly relations. The SA Council underlined that outstanding disputes and issues should be solved in line with international law and established principles.
The SA Council looked forward to the next steps in accession negotiations and recalled that Serbia’s progress under rule of law chapters 23 and 24 and in the process of normalisation of relations with Kosovo under chapter 35 remained essential for the overall pace of the negotiating process, in line with the negotiating framework.
The SA Council also held an exchange of views on developments in the Western Balkans.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.